SIR RICHARD F. BURTON,
K.C.M.G.. F.R.G.S.. &c.. &c., *c.
THE WORKS OF
CAPTAIN SIR RICHARD F. BURTON
ALL ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES,
\\'ho respect and honour the name of RICHARD BURTON,
the Soldier, Linguist, Scholar, Explorer and Discoverer,
Poet, Author, and Benefactor to Science ; in recognition
of the labours of a long and honourable life, devoted to
the Service of his Country, and to the advancement of its
Knowledge and of its Literature.
GELELE, KING OF DA HOME
IN r\\'() I'OLl'MKS.
GELELE, KING OF DAHOME
WITH NOTICES OF
THE SO-CALLED "AMAZONS," THE GRAND CUSTOMS,
THE YEARLY CUSTOMS, THE HUMAN SACRIFICES,
THE PRESENT STATE OF THE SLAVE TRADE.
THE NEGRO'S PLACE IN NATURE.
CAPTAIN SIR RICHARD F. BURTON,
K. C.M.G.. F. R.G. S., &c., &c., &<:.
(LATK COMMISSIONER TO DAHOME.)
AUTHOR OK "A PII.GRIMAGK TO AL-MADINAH ANI MKCCAH."
EDITED BY HIS WIFE,
" If a man be ambitious to improve in knowledge and wisdom, he should travel
im. foreign countries." PHILOSTRATUS is Aroi.i..
"Every kingdom, every province, should hav- its own monographer."
(in. BERT WHITK.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
TYLSTON AND EDWARDS.
(All rights reserved.)
Printed for the Publishers at
THE MECCAN PRESS,
3, Soho Square, London, W.
THE FIRST VOLUME.
Preface to the Memorial Edition xi
Preface to the First (1864) Edition xiii
I. I Fall in Love with Fernando Po i
II. I do not become "Fast Friends" with Lagos 14
III. We enter Whydah in State 17
IV. A Walk round Whydah 36
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House 76
VI. From Allada to Agrime no
VII. Small Reception at Agrime, and Arrival at
Kana, the King's Country Quarters 121
VIII. The Procession - 133
IX. The Reception 154
X. The March to Agbome 184
XI. The King enters his Capital 202
XII. The Presents are delivered 213
XIII. Of the Grand Customs and the Annual
Customs generally 228
XIV. The King's "So-sin Custom"
Section A. - 232
Section B. - 248
THIRTY years ago, no Europeans were at
Dahome. None ventured into the interior to the
Court of the Savage known as King Gelele. 1 His
time was spent in wars, his best troops being his
many thousand Amazons, women crueller and fiercer
than men. The prisoners were tortured, and their
throats were cut. Whenever he required to send a
telegram to his father, a man was slaughtered, and his
soul was despatched with it. Women were cut open
alive, in a state of pregnancy, that the King might see
what it was like. Animals were tied in every agoniz-
ing position to die ; impaling and cannibalism were
common, and it was impossible to go out of one's hut
without seeing something appalling.
Thirty years ago, Richard Burton was chosen
to go to Dahome, and to live with this savage, to
endeavour to induce him to abandon these cruelties.
He went as Her Majesty's Commissioner, bearing
presents from the Queen. The King gave ample
reasons for not being able to alter the customs of the
country. He sent return presents to Her Majesty,
i Pronounce "G61-e-le." For the pronunciation of
*' Dahome," see p. 106, note, post.
xii A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
and gave three to Richard Burton for his "favourite
squaw." The King treated Richard very well, but
any freak or sudden superstition might have caused
him to be put to a cruel death. Gelele said that his
prisoners of war represented his income, that his own
people would kill him if he stopped ''the customs,"
that if he received 50,000 a year he would attempt
it, and that the only presents he wanted were a
carriage and horses, and a white woman.
When Richard returned, he told me that he had
seen enough dreadful sights to turn his brain. Earl
Russell wrote me : "Tell Captain Burton that he has
performed his mission to my utmost and entire satis-
The following is his modest account of that
mission, and information concerning the country,
which I think and trust may prove infinitely useful
to the French Army now occupying Dahome.
And I beg of the French Army, when they
have righted the wrongs of the human race, to turn
a kind thought to those of the poor tortured animals.
As in the Memorial Edition of the "Pilgrimage
to Al-Madinah and Meccah," Mr. Leonard C.
Smithers has corrected the proofs from Sir Richard's
own copy of the first edition, and has passed the
sheets through the press.
July 12th, 1893.
P R E F A C E
FIRST (1864) EDITION
IN the Preface affixed by an anonymous hand to
"The History of Dahomy," published nearly three-
fourths of a century ago, 1 we are told that the "short
interval from W-hydah beach to Abomey is perhaps tht-
most beaten track, by Europeans, of any in Africa."
The Author thereupon proceeds to show a difference of
104 miles between the maximum and minimum estimates
of the distance, which is nearly doubled by the most
In this Year of Grace, 1864, there is at least an
equal amount of uncertainty concerning the "Land of
the Amazons"; but it shows rather in things metaphy-
sical than physical. So well informed a journal as the
"Saturday Review" (July 4th, 1863), gravely informs its
readers that "The King of Dahome has lately been in-
dulging in a sacrifice of 2000 human beings, simply in
deference to a national prejudice (!), and to keep up the
good old customs of the country" (! !).
This complete miscomprehension of the subject, com-
i "The History of Dahomy. an Inland Kingdom of Africa; com-
piled from authentic Memoirs; with an Introduction and Notes. By
Archibald Dalzel, Esq. (Governor at Whydah. then) Governor at
Cape Coast Castle (and lastly Governor-in-Chief of the Company's
Service.)" London. 1793. 4to. Printed for the Author by T. Spils-
bury and Son, Snowhill. In the following pages, whenever "The
History" is alluded to. Dalzel's is to be understood.
A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahorne.
ing from such a quarter, induces me to attempt without
fear so well worn a theme, and to bring up to the present
time a subject worthily handled by Snelgrave, 1 Smith, 2
Norris, 3 Dalzel, M'Leod, 4 and Forbes. 5 And if, in de-
picting the manners and ceremonies of this once celebrated
military Empire, and in recounting this black Epopaeia,
there has been a something of excessive detail, and there
shall appear much that is trifling and superfluous, the
kindly reader will perhaps find for it a reason.
My principal object, it may be frankly owned, has
been to show, in its true lights, the African kingdom best
known by name to Europe. But in detailing its mixture
of horrors and meanness, in this pitiless picture of its
mingled puerility and brutality, of ferocity and politeness,
I trust that none can rightfully charge me with exaggera-
tion, and I can acquit myself of all malice. "A nadie si
elogia con mentira, ni se critica sin verdad."
So far back as 1861 I had volunteered, as the Blue
Book shows, to visit Agbome. The measure not being
then deemed advisable, I awaited till May June, 1863,
when an opportunity presented itself. In the meantime
1 Captain William Snelgrave arrived off Whydah, in the Kather-
ine galley, in the latter end of March, 1726, three weeks after its
capture by Dahome. His book, " A Full Account of some Parts of
Guinea and the Slave-trade," appeared in 1734. 8vo,
2 William Smith, Esq., was sent out as surveyor in 1726. His
" New Voyage to Guinea" is a posthumous work, published in 1744.
3 " Memoirs of the reign of Bossa Ahadee : with an Account
of a Journey to Abomey in 1772, by Mr. Robert Norris." London,
4 "A Voyage to Africa; with some Account of the Manners
and Customs of the Dahomian People. By John M'Leod, M.D."
London : John Murray, 1820.
5 "Dahomey and the Dahomans ; being the Journals of Two
Missions to the King of Dahomey, and Residence at his Capital, in
the years 1849 and 1850. By Frederick E. Forbes, Commander
R.N.," &c. 2 Vols., 8vo. London: Longmans, 1851.
Preface to the First (1864) Edition. xv
(December, 1862 January, 1863), Commodore Wilmot,
R.N., Senior Officer of the Bights Division, accompanied
by Captain Luce, R.N., and by Dr. Haran, of H.M.S.
Brisk, devanced me, and that officer proved the feasibility
of a visit to Dahome. Returning to Fernando Po, I soon
received the gratifying intelligence that her Majesty's
Government had been pleased to choose me as the bearer
of a friendly message to King Gelele. The official letters
are, by permission, given in extenso below.
FOREIGN OFFICE, August 2oth, 1863.
You were informed by my Despatch of the 23rd of June
last, that you had been selected by Her Majesty's Government
to proceed on a Mission to the King of Dahomey, to confirm
the friendly sentiments expressed by Commodore Wilmot to the
King on the occasion of the visit which he made to that chief in
the months of December and January last.
I have accordingly to desire that as soon after the receipt
of this Despatch as it may be feasible to do so, you will proceed
to Dahomey, taking care first, by previous communication with
the King, to ascertain that a proper reception will be accorded
You will, on your arrival, inform the King that the many
important duties which devolve on Commodore Wilmot as the
Officer in command of Her Majesty's Naval Forces on the
African Coast, have prevented him returning in person to con-
firm the good understanding which it is hoped has been estab-
lished between the King and Her Majesty's Government by the
Commodore's late visit. You will state that the Commodore
faithfully reported all that passed between him and the King,
and that he correctly made known the wishes and feelings of
Her Majesty's Government on the several topics on which he
addressed the King.
With regard to the question of the export of slaves from
his territories, you will not fail to impress upon the King the
importance which her Majesty's Government attach to the ces-
sation of this traffic.
Her Majesty's Government admit the difficulties which the
King may find in putting a stop to a trade that has so long
A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
existed in his country, and from which his ancestors have
derived so much profit, but his income from this source must be
very small compared with that of former kings, and it will be
to his interest to find out some other source of revenue, before
that which he now derives from the sale of his fellow-men to
the slave dealers is entirely put a stop to. You will remind the
King that he himself suggested to Commodore Wilmot that if
we wished to put a stop to the slave trade, we should prevent
white men from coming to buy them, and you will state that
Her Majesty's Government, having determined that the traffic
shall cease, will take steps to prevent effectually the export of
slaves from his territories. You will add, in illustration of what
you state, that Her Majesty's Government have concluded a
treaty with the United States Government, which will prevent,
for the future, any American vessels from coming to ship slaves.
With regard to human sacrifices, I rejoice to find from Com-
modore Wilmot's Report, that the number of victims at the
King's customs has been exaggerated.
It is to be feared, however, that much difficulty will be
experienced in prevailing upon the King to put a stop entirely
to this barbarous practice, which prevails more or less openly,
along the greater part of the Western Coast of Africa. But we
must seek by whatever influence we may possess, or be able to
attain, to mitigate, if we cannot at once prevent, the horrors of
these customs, and I rely upon your using your best efforts for
The King in his interview with Commodore Wilmot ex-
pressed a wish that English merchants should come and settle
and make trade at Whydah, and he offered to help to repair the
old English fort there, and to permit it to be garrisoned by
You will thank the King for this mark of his confidence,
and you will at the same time state, that as he has promised to
protect any British merchants who may settle at W'hydah, Her
Majesty's Government put entire faith in his promises, and sec
no necessity for sending English soldiers to garrison the fort
there. You will, however, add, that there is one thing needful
in order that the King's wishes in regard to the settlement of
English merchants at Whydah should be carried out, and that
is, that there should be a sufficiency of lawful trade to induce
them to do so.
Preface to the First (1864) Edition. xvii
English merchants cannot take slaves in return for their
goods, they must have palm oil, ivory, cotton, and such other
articles as the country is capable of producing. The King will
see, therefore, that it must depend very much on his own exer-
tions, and those of his subjects, whether it will be worth while
for British merchants to settle at Whydah. Should however
the King think fit to enter into an engagement with Her Majesty's
Government to encourage lawful trade, and to promote, as far
as lies in his power, the development of the resources of his
country, Her Majesty's Government would be willing to appoint
an agent at Whydah to be an organ of communication with the
King and to assist in carrying out his views.
As an earnest of their friendly feelings, Her Majesty's
Government have caused the presents, of which a list is in-
closed, to be prepared and forwarded to you for presentation to
the King. You will see that, as far as possible, the King's wishes
as expressed to Commodore Wilmot, have been carried out in
regard to, the articles selected for presents, with the exception
of the carriage and horses, and with respect to these you will
explain to the King, that in the first place it would be a difficult
matter to get English horses out to the Coast, and even sup-
posing they arrived safely at their destination, it would be very
doubtful, from the nature of the country and climate, whether
they would long survive their arrival.
If, however, our future relations with the King should be of
a nature to warrant such a proceeding, Her Majesty's Govern-
ment would not hesitate to endeavour to comply with his wishes,
by sending him an English carriage and horses.
I have only in conclusion to add, that it has been suggested
to Her Majesty's Government that among the King's captives
there may still be some of the coloured Christian prisoners
taken at Ishagga, and if on inquiry you should be able to ascer-
tain that this is the case, you will state to the King that it would
be taken by Her Majesty's Government as an earnest of his
friendly feeling, and as shewing a desire to perform his promises
to them, if he would restore these prisoners to liberty.
I am, Sir,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
xviii A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
FOREIGN OFFICE, August 2oth, 1863.
With reference to my other Despatch of this day's
date containing instructions for your guidance on proceeding to
Dahomey, I have to state that you should, if possible, stipulate
with the King before proceeding to Abomey, that there should
be no human sacrifices during the time of your stay in his
capital, and you will, under any circumstances, decline to sanc-
tion these sacrifices by your presence, if they should unfortu-
nately take place whilst you are in the country.
The last packet from the West Coast brought reports of the
King of Dahomey having died from the effects of a wound re-
ceived in one of his slave-hunting expeditions. Shpuld these
reports be well founded, it will be advisable that you should
ascertain something of the character of his successor before
proceeding to the Dahomian capital, and I leave it to your dis-
cretion to proceed subsequently to Abomey, and to deliver the
presents to the new King or not, as you may after due con-
sideration deem advisable.
I have requested the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty
to give directions that you may be conveyed to and from Why-
dah in a ship of war, and I have also informed their lordships
that it would be advisable that a medical officer should ac-
company you, if one can be spared from her Majesty's ships
for this purpose.
I am, Sir,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
FOREIGN OFFICE, July 23, 1863.
With reference to my Despatch of the 23rd ultimo,
instructing you to hold yourself in readiness to proceed on a
Preface to the First (1864) Edition. xix
mission to the King of Dahomey, I have now to acquaint you
that the presents with which you will be entrusted for the King,
and the instructions for your guidance, will be forwarded to you
by the packet which leaves Liverpool with the African mails
on the 2jrd of August, and you will therefore make your ar-
I am, Sir,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
LIST OF PRESENTS forwarded to CAPTAIN BURTON by packet
of the 24th August, 1863, for presentation to the KING 01-
One forty feet circular crimson silk Damask Tent with Pole
complete (contained in two boxes).
One richly embossed silver Pipe with amber mouth-piece,
in morocco case. Two richly embossed silver Belts with Lion
and Crane in raised relief, in morocco cases. Two silver and
partly gilt Waiters, in oak case. One Coat of Mail and Gaunt-
lets. (Contained in one deal case, addressed to Captain Burton,
H. B. M.'s Consul for the Bight of Biafra, West Coast of Africa.)
September, however, was hardly the month to be
preferred for crossing the Great Agrime Swamp, and my
health required a change of air before submitting to the
ptine forte et dure of a visit to a West African King. A
few weeks upon the South Coast, in the delicious "Ca-
9inibo, 1 " soon brought me up to working mark, and the
following pages will tell the rest.
In Chapter XIX., I have taken the liberty of per-
sonally addressing my friend Dr. Hunt, author of "The
Negro 1 ^ Place in Nature." He has called for the results
of my humble experience I had written the remarks
before seeing his able and graphic paper and I have
done my best to aid him in dispersing the mists with
which "mere rhetoric of a political and religious nature"
has invested the subject.
i The cloudy (but not rainy) season in Angola and on the Congo
River, lasting from May to September.
xx A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
Some excuse may be expected for the length of the
Appendix: the object has been to supply the Public with
as complete a picture of present Dahome as my materials,
and my capability of using them, have permitted. The
items are as follows :
I. Itinerary, from Whydah to Agbome (corrected by
Captain George, R.N., Royal Geographical Society of
II. List of expenses at Agbome. Mr. Bernasko's
account current with Captain Burton, Her Majesty's
Commissioner, Dahomey, from December 8th, 1863, to
February 26th, 1864.
III. Reprints of previous modern notices.
A. Extract of a letter from the Reverend Peter W.
Bernasko, Native Assistant Missionary, dated Whydah,
November agth, 1860, and describing the Grand Customs.
("Wesleyan Missionary Notices," February 25th, 1861).
B. Despatches from Commodore Wilmot respecting
his visit to the King of Dahomey in December, 1862, and
January, 1863, and describing the Platform Sacrifice.
C. Dahomy, its People and Customs, by M. Jules
Gerard, describing the Oyo Custom of Kana.
IV. A Catalogue of the Dahoman Kings, with the
dates of their various exploits, their "strong names,"
and the events of their reigns. It is merely produced as
document pony servir : I have not only analysed the several
histories, but have gathered from the natives traditions
and explanations of the royal titles. Moreover, I wish
these volumes to be a picture rather of the present than
of the past.
The Pages now offered to the Public are the result
of a three months' personal study of Dahome, my work
extending over the day, and often half through the night.
I may venture to assert that, by comparing its results
Preface to the First (1864) Edition. xxi
with the authors before cited, the labour expended upon
this monogram will become apparent
It only remains for me to apologize for the involun-
tary errors which will doubtless be found in the following
volumes, and to hope that I may, at some future time,
find an opportunity of correcting them.
BUENA VISTA, FERNANDO Po,
April 20, 1864.
e 6 icafc o
A MIS AMIGOS ESPANOLES EN FERNANDO POO, KSI'ECIALM ENT K A
BRIGADIER D. PANTALEON LOPEZ UK LA TORRK AVI. I. ON,
(GOBKRNAI)OR-GKNKRAL. OK FKRNANIX) POO V SUS DKHKN DKNC I AS> ;
D. ATILANO CALVO ITURBURl' ',
D. TEODOSIO NOELI Y \VHITK;
D. FRANCISCO OSORIO V U. CARLOS DE ROJAS ;
EN PRUEBA DE AFKCTUOSA AMISTAD.
GELELE, KING OF DAHOME.
I FALL IN LOVE WITH FERNANDO PO.
This fertile soil, which enjoys a perpetual spring, is considered a
strong prison, as the land of spectres, the seat of disease, and the
mansion of death.
Said of Bengal by its Moslem conquerors.
A Ilka Formosa, the lovely island of Fernando Po,
has, like most beauties, two different, indeed two oppo-
About Christmas time she is in a state deeper than
A kind of sleepy Venus seemed Dudu.
Everything, in fact, appears enwrapped in the rapture
of repose. As the ship glides from the rolling, blustering
Bights into that wonderfully still water, men come on
deck feeling they know not what ; $ela porte a Vamour, as
the typical Frenchman remarks. The oil-like swell is
too lazy to break upon the silent shore, the wind has
hardly enough energy to sigh, the tallest trees nod and
bend drowsily downwards, even the grass is, from idle-
ness, averse to wave : the sluggish clouds bask in the
VOL. i. i
2 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
soft light of the sky, while the veiled sun seems in no
hurry to run his course. Here no one would dream, as
does our modern poet, of calling nature " sternly fair."
If such be the day, conceive the cloister-like stillness of
a night spent in the bosom of Clarence Cove. Briefly,
Fernando Po, in the dry weather, is a Castle of Indolence,
a Land of the Lotophagi, a City of the Living-Dead.
But as I saw her in November, 1863, and as she
had been for the six months preceding, the charmer was
not to be recognised by that portrait. A change had
come over her Madonna-like face as is sometimes wit-
nessed in the " human organism." The rainy season
had set in earlier than usual ; it had opened in May, and
in November it was not ended. A heavy arch of nimbus,
either from the north-east or the north-west, gathered
like a frown on the forehead of the dull grey firmament.
Presently the storm came down, raving like a jealous
wife. In a few moments it burst with a flood of tears, a
sheet of " solid water," rent and blown about by raging,
roaring gusts, that seemed to hurry from every quarter
in the very ecstasy of passion. Baleful gleams of red
thready lightning flashed like the glances of fury in
weeping eyes, and deafening peals of thunder crashed
overhead, not with the steady rumble of a European
tempest, but sharp, sudden, and incisive as claps of
feminine objurgation between fits of sobbing. These
lively scenes were enacted during half the day, and often
throughout the night : they passed off in lady-like sulks,
a windless fog or a brown -blue veil of cloud settling hope-
lessly over the face of heaven and earth, till the un-
appeased elements gathered strength for a fresh outburst.
Amidst this caprice, these coquetries of the " Beau-
tiful Island," man found it hard to live, but uncommonly
easy to die. Presently all that was altered, and the
history of the metamorphosis deserves, I think, to be
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 3
The shrew was tamed by an inch and a half of
barometric altitude. The dictum of the learned Dr.
Waitz, the Anthropologist, no longer holds good. 1
When I first landed on this island (September, 1861),
Sta. Isabel, nee Clarence, the lowland town and harbour,
was the only locality inhabited by the new Spanish
colony. Pallid men were to be seen sitting or lolling
languid in their verandahs, and occasionally crawling
about the grass-grown streets, each with a cigarette
hanging to his lower lip. They persistently disappeared
in the dry season, whilst their example was followed by
the coloured " liberateds " and the colonists during the
" balance" of the year. H.B.M.'s Consulate is situated
unpleasantly near a military hospital : breakfast and
dinner were frequently enlivened by the spectacle of a
something covered with a blanket being carried in, and
after due time a something within a deal box being borne
out on four ghastly men's shoulders. And strangers
fled the place like a pestilence : sailors even from the
monotonous " south coast," felt the ennui of Fernando Po
to be deadly gravelike.
At length Yellow Fever, the gift of the "Grand
Bonny," which was well-nigh depopulated, stalked over
the main in March, 1862, and in two months he swept
off 78 out of a grand total of 250 white men. 2
1 "There are many districts in Africa where strangers, and es-
pecially Europeans, can neither live nor become acclimated, whilst
the natives enjoy good health. Such is the case in some parts of the
Darfur, the greater portion of Kordofan, Fernando Po, and Zanzibar."
Anthropology of Primitive Peoples, vol. i., excellently translated
by J. Frederick Collingwood, Esq., F.A.S. (London : Triibner & Co.,
2 On August 28, 1859, 155 white soldiers, young and picked men,
who had shipped at Cadiz, July 16, 1859, arrived at Fernando Po,
under H.E the Governor de la Gandara, who is now fighting his
country's battles in Santo Domingo. On July 16, 1863, after con-
cluding their three years' service, forty-seven of these men returned
A A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The " Beautiful Island " was now going too far.
Seeing that the fever did not abate, H.E. the Governor
de la Gandara determined to try the effects of altitude.
A kind of " quart elillo "infirmerie orbaraque was hastily
run up in twelve days, beginning from June 22nd, 1862,
by M. Tejero, Commandent of Military Engineers. The
site, a kind of shelf over the village of Basile, about 400
metres above sea-level, received the name of Sta. Cecilia.
On the day after its completion, July 6th, nineteen
penitentiaires, or political prisoners, the survivors of some
thirty men that had died of yellow fever in the hulks,
were transferred to the new quarters ; two were lost by
attacks of the same disease contracted on the seaboard,
the rest of those condemned to travaux forces kept their
health, and were returned to their homes in November,
This old bavaque is now nearly always empty, being
converted into a kind of lodging-house. Its dimensions
are 11-50 metres long, by 6 broad, and raised on piles 1-50
high ; the rooms are three in number, one large, of 6
metres by 4-25, and the other two of 4-25 metres by 3.
Seeing the excellent result of that experiment, H.E.
Sr. D. Lopez de Ayllon, the present Governor, to whom
these pages are respectfully inscribed, determined to in-
crease operations. Major Osorio, of the Engineers, was
directed to build a maison caserne, intended to accommo-
date white soldiers not wanted for duty at Sta. Isabel.
It was begun March 22nd, finished September 5th, and
opened November 3oth, 1863. The rez de chaussee lodges
forty men, the second story as many more, whilst the
first stage has rooms for the Governor, his aide-de-camp,
to Spain. I have been unable to procure statistics of their health or
sickness since that period Of the 108 casualties, or more than two-
thirds of the original number, thirty-five men died, mostly during the
first eighteen months ; the other seventy-three were sent home in-
/. I Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 5
and four officers. Besides these two lumber houses, there
are tolerable stables for horses and mules, good roads
well bridged, and a channel of mountain water, which the
white soldiers, who can work in the sun with the thinnest
of caps, have derived from the upper levels. About
thirty men were sent here. Their number has varied but
little. During the five months from December, 1863, to
April, 1864, though there have been sporadic local cases
of simple intermittent fever March, 1864, shows only
one and though dangerous diseases have been brought
up from the lowlands, not a death has occurred.
Thus, then, the first sanitarium in Western Africa
owes its existence to the Spanish Colony, that dates only
from the middle of 1859. As far back as 1848, the
late Captain Wm. Allen and Dr. Thompson, of the Niger
Expedition, proposed a sanitary settlement at Victoria, on
the seaboard below the Camaroons Mountain, a site far
superior to Fernando Po. Since their time, the measure
has been constantly advocated by the late Mr. M. Laird.
Eppur non si muove Britannia. She allows her " senti-
mental squadron " to droop and to die without opposing
the least obstacle between it and climate. A few
thousands spent at Camaroons or at Fernando Po would,
calculating merely the market value of seamen's lives,
repay themselves in as many years. Yet not a word from
the Great Mother !
When I compare St. Louis of Senegal with Sierra
Leone, or Lagos with Fernando Po, it is my conviction
that a temporary something is going wrong with the
popular constitution at home. If not, whence this want
of energy, this new-born apathy ? Dr. Watson assures
us that disease in England has now assumed an asthenic
and adynamic type. The French said of us in the Crimea
that Jean Boide had shattered his nerves with too much
tea. The Registrar-General suggests the filthy malaria
of the overcrowded hodiernal English town as the fames
6 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
malorum. The vulgar opinion is, that since the days of
the cholera the Englishman (physical) has become a
different being from his prototype of those fighting times
when dinner-pills were necessary. And we all know that
C'est la constipation que rend 1'homme rigoureux.
Whatever the cause may be, an Englishman's lot is at
present not enviable, and his children have a Herculean
task "cut and dry" before them.
Nothing can be more genial and healthful than the
place where I am writing these lines, the frame or plank-
house built by D. Pellon, of the Woods and Forests, now
absent on private affairs in Spain. The aneroid shows
29 instead of 30-1 30-4 inches, and the altitude does not
exceed 800 feet. Yet after sunrise the ft*ermometer (F.)
often stands at 68, reddening the hands and cheeks of
the white man. We can take exercise mentally and
bodily without that burst of perspiration which follows
every movement in the lowlands, and we can repose with-
out the sensation which the " Beebee " in India defined
as "feeling like a boiled cabbage." The view from the
balcony facing north is charming. On the right are the
remnants of a palm orchard ; to the left, an avenue of
bananas leads to a clump of tropical forest ; and on both
sides tumbles adown the basaltic rocks and stones a
rivulet of pure cold mountain water most delightful of
baths over which the birds sing loudly through the live-
long day. In front is a narrow ledge of cleared ground
bearing rose-trees two years old and fifteen feet high, a
pair of coffee shrubs, bowed with scarlet berries, sundry
cotton plants, by no means despicable, and a cacao,
showing what the island would have been but for the
curse of free labour. 1 Beyond the immediate foreground
i "Without slaves," says Koeler (Notizen iiber Bonny), "the
fertile tropical valleys would be unproductive and deserted, as white
men cannot labour there in the open air." The question is, whether
the world has been sufficiently cleared to enable men to dispense
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 7
there is a slope, hollowed in the centre, and densely
covered with leek-green and yellow-green grasses of the
Holcus kind now finding favour in England, and even
here fragrant, when cut, as northern hay. The drop is
sufficiently abrupt below to fall without imperceptible
gradation into the rolling plain, thick and dark with
domed and white-boled trees, which separate the moun-
tain from the Ethiopic main. The white houses of Sta.
Isabel glisten brightly on the marge ; beyond it the milky-
blue expanse of streaked waters stretches to the bent bow
of the horizon ; and on the right towers, in solitary
majesty, a pyramid of Nature's handiwork, " Mongo ma
Lobah," the Mount of Heaven, 1 now capped with indis-
tinct cloud, then gemmed with snow,' 2 and reflecting from
its golden head the gorgeous tropical sunshine ; whilst
over all of earth and sea and sky there is that halo of
atmosphere which is to landscape what the light of youth
is to human loveliness.
And as night first glooms in the East, the view
borrows fresh beauties from indistinctness. The varied
tints make way for the different shades of the same colour
that mark the several distances, and hardly can the eye
distinguish in the offing land from sea. Broken lines of
mist-rack rise amongst the trees of the basal plain, follow-
ing the course of some streamlet, like a string of giant
birds flushed from their roosts. The moon sleeps sweetly
with forced labour ? At Fernando Po, the hire of a Kruman, who
does about one-fifth of an Englishman's work, amounts, all things
included, to thirty shillings a week. The expression in the text is
not too strong. Mr. Lee, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry in the
University of Georgia, estimates the manual requirements of the
Southern States at one million of men for twenty years, and regards
it as " providential that there should be so much unemployed power
in human muscles in Western Africa."
1 The topmost peak of the Camaroons Mountain, so called by the
2 To talk of snow so near the line! The erudite Mr. Cooley will
certainly swear it is dolomite.
8 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
upon the rolling banks of foliage, and from under the
shadowing trees issue weird fantastic figures, set off by
the emerald light above. In the growing silence the
tinkle of the two rivulets becomes an audible bass, the
treble being the merry cricket and the frog praying lustily
for rain, whilst the palms whisper mysterious things in
their hoarse baritone. The stars shine bright, twinkling
as if frost were in the air ; we have eliminated the thick
stratum of atmosphere that overhangs the lowlands, and
behind us, in shadowy grandeur, neither blue nor brown
nor pink, but with a blending of the three, and some-
times enwrapped in snowy woolpack so dense as to ap-
pear solid against the deep azure, the Pico Santa Isabel,
the highest crater in the island, rises softly detached from
the cirrus-flecked nocturnal sky.
Life, as an American missionary remarked, is some-
what primitive at Buena Vista, but it is not the less
pleasant. An hour of work in my garden at sunrise and
sunset, when the scenery is equally beautiful, hard read-
ing during the day, and after dark a pipe and a new book
of travels, this is the " fallentis semita vita" which makes
one shudder before plunging once more into the cold and
swirling waters of society of civilization. My "niggers"
are, as Krumen should be, employed all the day long in
clearing, cutting, and planting it is quite the counter-
part of a landowner's existence in the Southern States.
Nothing will prevent them calling themselves my
" children," that is to say, my slaves ; and indeed no
white man who has lived long in the outer tropics can
prevent feeling that he is pro tempore the lord, the master,
and the proprietor of the black humanity placed under
him. It is true that the fellows have no overseer, conse-
quently there is no whip ; punishment resolves itself into
retrenching rum and tobacco ; moreover, they come and
go as they please. But if a little "moral influence" were
not applied to their lives, they would be dozing or quarrel-
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 9
ling all day in their quarters, and twanging a native
guitar half the night, much to their own discomfort and
more to their owner's. Consequently I keep them to their
At certain hours the bugle-call from Santa Cecilia
intimates that all about me is not savagery. And below
where the smoke rises " a-twisten blue" from the dense
plantation of palms, lies a rich study for an ethnologist
Basile, the Bube village. No white man has lived long
enough amongst this exceptional race of Fernandians to
describe them minutely, and, as a rule, they have been
grossly and unjustly abused. 1 A few lines will show the
peculiarities which distinguish them from other African
The Bube who, as may be proved by language, is
an aborigine of the mainland has forgotten his origin,
and he wisely gives himself no trouble about it. If you
ask him whence he comes, he replies " from his mother" ;
whither he goes, and he answers " to Drikhatta ra
Busala 'be 2 if a bad man," and "to Lubakko 'pwa (the
1 Bosman (A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of
Guinea, translated into English, 1705) seems to have led the way,
and others have repeated him. " The island of Fernando Po is in-
habited by a savage and cruel sort of people, which he that deals
with ought not to trust. I neither can nor will say more of them."
It is hard to discover whence was derived the word Adiyah or
Eediyah, which all writers have copied from the Niger Expedition of
Messrs. Allen and Thompson, and have applied to the Bube race.
The fact is, the Fernandian, as might be expected, has no national
name, for "adiyah" is probably derived from adios, arios, aros, the
salutation borrowed from the old Spanish colony long extinct. Bube
(not "bubi," or "booby,") means, not "friend," but "man," a
frequent address as the Castilian hombre, and thus assumed by
strangers as the popular appellation. In " High Bube," " adyah "
means "the moon," which in the vulgar is "ballepo."
2 Literally, kingdom (drikhatta) of the devil (bad ghost). So,
the sky or heaven is also called Drikhatta ra Rupe, i.e.. Kingdom of
God. Possibly these are European ideas grafted upon the African
A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
sky) if he has been a good Bube." He has a conception
of and a name for the Creator, Rupe or Erupe, but he
does not perplex himself with questions of essence and
attribute, personality and visibility. Perhaps in this
point too he shows good sense. He is also, you may be
sure, not without an evil principle, Busala 'be, who acts
as it were chief of police.
Coming down from the things of heaven to those of
earth, the Fernandian is " aristocratic," an out-and-out
conservative ; no oldest Tory of the old school can pre-
tend to rival him. But in many points his attachment
to ancient ways results not from prejudice, but from a
tradition founded upon sound instinct. He will not live
near the sea for fear of being kidnapped, also because the
over-soft air effeminates his frame. He refuses to build
higher up the mountains than 2000 to 3000 feet, as his
staff of life, the palm and the plantain, will not flourish
in the raw air and in the rugged ground. He confines him-
self therefore to the exact zone in which the medical
geographer of the present age would place him above
the fatal fever level, and below the line of dysentery and
pneumonia. His farm is at a distance from his cottage,
to prevent domestic animals finding their way into it ;
his yam fields, which supply the finest crops, are as pretty
and as neatly kept as vineyards in Burgundy, and he
makes the best " topi " or palm toddy in Western Africa.
His habitation is a mere shed without walls : he is a
Spartan in these matters. Nothing will persuade him to
wear, beyond the absolute requirements of decency, any-
thing warmer than a thin coat of palm oil : near the
summit of the mountain, 10,000 feet above sea-level,
I have offered him a blanket, and he has preferred the
fire. His only remarkable, somewhat " fashionable "-
looking article of dress is an extensive wicker hat covered
with a monkey skin, but this is useful to prevent tree
snakes falling upon his head. He insists upon his wife
/. / Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 1 1
preserving the same toilette, minus the hat oh, how
wise ! If she does not come up to his beau ideal of
fidelity, he cuts off, first her left hand, then her right,
lastly, her throat ; a very just sequence. 1 He is not a
slave nor will he keep slaves ; he holds them to be a
vanity, and justly, because he can work for himself. He
is no idler ; after labouring at his farm, he will toil for
days to shoot a monkey, a " philantomba " (alias " fri-
tamba"), or a flying squirrel. Besides being a sports-
man, he has his manly games, and I should not advise
every one to tackle him with quarter-staff; his alpenstock
is a powerful and a well-wielded weapon. Though so
highly conservative, he is not, as some might imagine,
greatly destitute of intelligence : he pronounces our harsh
and difficult English less incorrectly that any West
African tribe, including the Sierra Leonite. Brightest of
all is his moral character : you may safely deposit rum
and tobacco that is to say, gold and silver in his street,
and he will pay his debt as surely as the Bank of England. 2
And what caps his worldly wisdom, is his perfect and
perpetual suspiciousness. He never will tell you his
name, he never receives you as a friend, he never trusts
you, even when you bring gifts ; he will turn out armed
if you enter his village at an unseasonable hour, and if
you are fond of collecting vocabularies, may the god of
speech direct you ! The fact is, that the plunderings
i In Northern Europe and in America the injured husband kills the
lover ; in Asia and in Southern Europe he kills the wife. Which pro-
ceeding is the more sensible ? Can any man in his senses believe in
the seduction of a married woman ? Credat Cresu'dl Cresu'ell I
2, I allude of course to the Bube in his natural and unsophisti-
cated state, not to him as corrupted by Europeans and by Krumen.
Mr. Winwood Reade, the author of an amusing and picturesque
book, "Savage Africa," unfortunately visited only "Banapa," one of
the worst specimens of a Bube village. As a rule, the Fernandian
has little of the ignoble appearance that characterizes the true
12 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
and the kidnappings of bygone days are burned into his
memory : he knows that such things have been, and he
knows not when they may again be. So he confines
himself to the society of his native hamlet, and he makes
no other intimacies, even with the fellowmen whose
village smoke he sees curling up from the neighbouring
... * # * * *
After two years of constant quarrelling the beautiful
i Some of the kidnapping tales that still linger on this coast, show
the straits into which, at times, men were driven for a cargo. At
Annobom, where the people are Negro-Portuguese, they are ever
looking forward to hearing mass from the mouth of a priest. A
Spaniard learning this, dressed up a pair of ecclesiastics, landed
them, and whilst the function was proceeding, seized the whole con-
gregation, and carried them triumphantly to market. The following
communication will show the value of Fernandian cotton. But, alas !
labour is at 303. per week :
"COTTON SUPPLY ASSOCIATION.
"Offices: No. i, Newall's Buildings,
" Manchester, February, 1864.
" Captain R. F. Burton, H.B.M. Consul,
" Fernando Po.
" Sir, Your communication, with the two samples of cotton, had the
due attention of the Committee, and I have now to hand you their report
upon the latter.
" ist. Fernando Po. Dull in colour, clean, staple fine, and fair length;
value 28d. per Ib.
" 2nd. Congo. Dull brown colour, staple coarse and weak; value 27d.
Middling Orleans Cotton being worth 28Jd. per Ib.
"The Committee would be glad to learn that such cotton as your sam-
ples, especially the first, could be sent from Fernando Po in large quantities
to this district, where trade is languishing, and our population so severely
suffering for want of a supply of such cotton.
" We shall be glad to have any further particulars respecting the pro-
duction of your immediate neighbourhood, and the price at which such as
your sample No. i can be collected, and any other information you may be
kindly disposed to furnish.
" I am, Sir,
" Yours respectfully,
(Signed) " ISAAC WATTS, Secretary."
7. I Fall in Love with Fernando Po. 13
island and I are now " fast friends." It is perhaps as
well to " begin with a little aversion. 1 "
i The following sick list is taken from official documents compiled
at Fernando Po. Of thirty invalids, sent up from the lowlands in
November, 1863, there suffered from
Dec. Jan. Feb. March.
Fever (simple and intermittent) 14 16 n i
(remittent malignant) ... 3 2 20
(intermittent malignant) o o i o
Dysentery 3 l 20
Various ....... 2 3 20
Total ... 22 22 18 i
It must be observed that in all cases, except those of simple inter-
mittents, the disease was contracted in the lowlands ; moreover, that
of sixty-three, the grand total, not a patient died.
I DO NOT BECOME " FAST FRIENDS," WITH LAGOS.
On Nov. 29, 1863, I embarked on board H.M.S.S.
Antelope, Lieut. -Commander Allingham. A red ensign
at the fore, manned yards, and a salute of 17 guns,
banished from my brain all traces of Buena Vista and the
Bube. Our cruise was eventless. We of course fell in
with a tornado off Cape Formoso, the gentle projection in
the hypothenuse of the Nigerian Delta. The good old
iron paddle- wheeler, however, though no " skimmer of
the seas," advanced at ease through the impotent blast.
On Dec. 2, we found ourselves rolling in the roads of pes-
tilential Lagos, our lullaby the sullen distant roar, whilst
a dusky white gleam smoking over the deadly bar in the
darkening horizon threatened us with a disagreeable land-
ing at the last, the youngest, and the most rachitic of
Great Britain's large but now exceedingly neglected
family of colonies.
H.M.S.S. Investigator was signalled for on the
next day; the Handy being as usual "unhandy"
broken down. The acting commander of the former, Mr.
Adlam, kindly gave me an in-passage to ship the presents
sent by the Foreign Office for the King of Dahome.
The town, however, and the townspeople as well,
wore a new and greatly improved appearance, the work of
the great benefactor of West African cities, " General
Conflagration." Three fires had followed one another in
//. I do not become "Fast Friends" with Lagos. 15
regular succession through November, December, and
January, 1863 ; and the fire god will continue to " rule
the roast" till men adopt some more sensible style of
roofing than thatch and "Calabar mats." There was
also a distinct improvement in local morals since the days
when the charming English spinster landed here, and
was obliged by the excited and non-culottces natives to
be escorted back to her papa's ship by two gentlemen
with drawn swords.
Nudity has been made penal. Where impaled corpses
of men and dogs scandalized eye and nose, and where a
foul mass of hovel crowded down to the beach, now runs
a broad road, a Marine Parade, the work of the first
governor, Mr. Coskry, during his short but useful reign.
Finally, Sydney Smith's highest idea of civil government,
a street constable, everywhere gladdens the Britisher's
sight. In France we should have seen the piou-piou ; in
England they prefer the " peeler ; " and the peeler-
governed scoff and wag the head at the piou-piou-ruled,
and vice versa. I confess to holding that British Praetorian,
the policeman, to be like the beefsteak, and like Professor
Holloway's pill a bore, a world-wide nuisance : the
" meteor flag of England " never seems to set upon him.
Camoens might have addressed him as another Sebas-
Thou being dread ! upon whose glorious sway
The orient sun first pours his quick'ning beam,
And views thee from the heaven's middle way,
And lights thee smiling with his latest gleam,
On the other hand, nothing could be worse than the
animus between white and black and white-black ; it was
systematically aggravated by the bad prints of the coast,
and by the extra-philanthropic portion of the fourth
estate at home. The place is also, I have said, pestilen-
tial ; out of a grand total of seventy Europeans, not fewer
1 6 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
than nine have lately died in thirteen days ; others are
expected to follow, and no man is safe at Lagos for a
week. Breathing such an air, with such an earth below
them, with such a sun above them, and with such waters
within them, it is hardly to be wondered at that the La-
goonist's temper is the reverse of mild.
Thus we arrived at an evil hour ; all stood in armed
peace, alert for war ; and the hapless Investigator put
the last strain on the back of Patience. Startled by the
display of fight, I hastily collected the presents, whilst
Mr. John Cruikshank, the Assistant-Surgeon, R.N., de-
tailed on duty to Dahome, obliged me by laying in a few
stores. On December 4th we hurried from the City of
Wrath. The bar showed blinders only ; we would have
crossed it had the breakers risen mountains high.
On Saturday, December 5th, we anchored off noto-
rious Whydah, a few hours too late to catch the last
glimpse of the Rattlesnake's top-gear. This was unlucky.
Commodore Wilmot, commanding the West Coast of
Africa, who, taking the warmest interest in the mission,
had adopted every possible measure to forward its suc-
cess, after vainly awaiting my coming for nearly a fort-
night, was compelled by circumstances to steam North-
ward. Thus it was my fate to miss the only officer on the
coast who knew anything about Dahome, and thus colla-
tion of opinion became impossible.
WE ENTER WHYDAH IN STATE.
THE necessity of sending on a messenger to the King,
who was preparing for his own Customs, and for my re-
ception at Kana, detained H.M.S. Antelope till Decem-
ber 8th, when a special invitation returned to Whydah.
For some days the weather had been too dark to
permit a fair view of a country so much extolled by old
travellers, and which Captain Thomas Phillips 1 has
described as the " pleasantest land in Guinea." But even
under the clearest sky, with the present deadening influ-
ences, when the hand of the destroyer has passed over its
towns and villages and fields, the traveller must not ex-
pect to find, like his brotherhood of the last and even the
present century, the " champaigns and small ascending
hills beautified with always green shady groves of lime,
wild orange, and other trees, and irrigated with divers
broad fresh rivers." And of the multitude of little vil-
lages that belonged to Whydah in the days of her indepen-
dence, it may be said that their ruins have perished.' 2
1 Journal of a Voyage to Africa and Barbadoes. By Thos. Phillips,
Commander of the "Hannibal," of London, 1693-94. It is a quaint
old log-book, and supplies a_good_account oHndependent Whydah.
2 Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 185) found fine farms, six to seven miles
from Whydah, with clean and comfortable houses, chiefly the work
of Foolah and Eya (Oyo ? ) captives returned from the Brazils.
"This." says that traveller, " would seem to prove that to this
country slavery is not without its good as well as bad effects."
VOL. I. 2
1 8 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
We landed as ceremoniously as I had embarked.
The Commodore had dwelt long enough in Africa and
amongst the Africans, properly to appreciate the efficacy
of " apparatus " in the case of the first Government
mission. Commander Ruxton, R.N., whose gun-vessel,
the Pandora, still remained in the roads when H.M.S.
Antelope, after firing her salute, departed, kindly accom-
panied us. After a rough and stormy night we landed, at
10 A.M., in a fine surf-boat belonging to Mr. Dawson, of
Cape Coast Castle, ex-missionary and actual merchant
at Whydah ; its strong knees and the rising cusps of the
stem and stern acting as weather-boards, are required in
these heavy seas that dash upon the ill-famed Slave-
coast. We remarked a little external bar, separated by
a deep longitudinal line, the home of sharks, from the
steep sandy beach ; it must act as a breakwater when the
surf is not over-heavy. We landed amid song and shout,
in the usual way ; shunning great waves, we watched a
" smooth," paddled in violently upon the back of some
curling breaker, till the boat's nose was thrown high and
dry upon the beach ; were snatched out by men, so as
not to be washed back by the receding water, and gained
terra firma without suspicion of a wetting. Such, however,
. was not the case with our boxes ; indeed baggage rarely
1 has such luck. On the beach we were met by the Rev.
Peter W. Bernasko, native teacher, and Principal of the
Wesleyan Mission, Whydah, and taking refuge from the
sun in a hut-shed belonging to Mr. Dawson, the party
waited half an hour, till all had formed in marching order.
r~"The Hu-ta, 1 praya, or sea-beach of the " Liverpool of
i Except when absolutely necessary for explanation, I shall not
use, in writing native vocables, accents or diacritical marks : these
serve only to puzzle the reader, without enabling him to reproduce
the sound of foreign words. In the future dictionaries, however, the
words must be distinguished by accents, not as in English, by spell-
ing, e.g., "boy" and "buoy," "thy" and "thigh," and so forth.
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 19
Dahome," is a sand-bank rising some 20 feet above sea
level, and bright with the usual salsolaceous plants.
There are no dwelling-houses, nor do the white merchants
of the upper town often sleep here. Seven several
establishments of mat roofs and mud walls (the French
being incomparably the best), serve for storing cargo, and
for transacting business during the day. There are
usually three to four ships rolling in the roads, and the
more sanguine declare that the great slave port might, if
she pleased, export 10,000 tons of palm oil (^"340,000) per
Trie Whydah escort of twenty men having duly
saluted us with muskets, began the march towards their
town, shouting and firing, singing and dancing, Our
party was headed by a Kruman from Commander
Ruxton's ship, carrying the white and red-crossed flag of
St. George, attached to a boarding pike ; followed five
f hammocks with an interpreter, and my crew of six
Krumen, armed, and brilliantly clad in " bargees'" red
nightcaps, and variegated pocket-handkerchiefs, scanty
as the old cale$on at once happy Biarritz. \Ye were
exhorted to take and to keep patience, the task before us
being a foretaste of what would sorely try us at the
rA few yards of loose sand led out of the factory site
to the Lagoon, a river-like but semi-stagnant stream,
dotted with little ^reen aits, running parallel with and
close to the shore. Its breadth was 300 yards, and it
wetted the hips, being deeper in December of the " dries,"
than I had seen it in June. For this reason some have
suspected that it comes from the far North, where the
rains which have now ended on the coast are still heavy.
It is a boon to the people, who, finding all their wants in
Amongst the kindred Egbas the native etymology of English words
has run wild, e.g., "Tamahana" for Thompson, "Wiremu,"as in
New Zealand, for Williams, and "Piripi" for Philip.
20 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
its quiet waters, are not driven to tempt the ravenous
sharks and the boisterous seas outside. The Lagoon fish
is excellent ; there is a trout-like species with a very deli-
cate flavour, and here, as on the Gold Coast, many
prefer the lighter lenten diet to meat. (, Its oysters are
good enough when cooked ; before being eaten raw, their
insipidity should be corrected by keeping for some time in
salt water, 1 and by feeding with oatmeal. We saw piles
of shells large enough for a thousand "grottos," and
were told that this is the only lime and whitewash in the
From the Lagoon we issued upon the De-nun, 2 or
custom-house, also called Je-sin-nun, "Salt water side."
The dirty clump of ragged mat-huts stands on a little
sandy oasis, garnished with full and empty barrels, with
whole and broken canoes and fishing nets, with porters at
work, and with a few women sitting for sale before their
little heaps of eatables, in fact, with all the paraphernalia
of an African fishing village, including noise and
I i The Lagoon is salt only when the sea flows into it at high water.
The people then wait till the tide has ebbed, and find on the mud-
surface an efflorescence of salt, like hoar-frost, the work of rapid
evaporation. It is scraped together, and packed in log huts for im-
portation inland : most people prefer it in its original dirty and muddy
state, others clean and whiten it by boiling.^ j
2 "De-nun," which Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 282) writes "Dtheno,"
and evidently thinks to be a proper name, e.g., "the small kroom (a
Gold Coast word) of Dtheno," is the" Bode " of the Egbas or Akus.
The word "De" means custom-house dues; "nun," properly
" mouth," or "side," is a monosyllable of many significations. De-
gan is the custom-house "captain," who, as well as his guards, is
locally called Decimero, from the Portuguese. The reader will
observe that the terminal n in Dahoman words, is invariably a pure
nasal, and sounds like the French "raisow." In "Je-sin-nun," the
first word signifies "salt," the second "water," and the nasal is so
little defined, that an English ear would distinguish only "see," or
II I. We Enter Whydah in State. 21
The two direct miles of swamp and sand between the
De-nun and the town is a facsimile in miniature of the
fifty miles between Whydah and Agbome. It is a
"duver," a false coast : not a pebble the size of a pea is
to be found, which fact suffices to prove the land to be
the gift of the sea, not a sweep from the northern rocky
mountains by rivers, rain, or gradual degradation. As in
lower Yoruba generally, the sandy soil would be very
unproductive but for the violent rains. The surface is
a succession of "small downes," dorses and gentle ridges
running parallel with the shore from East to West, not
unlike the wrinkles or landwaves behind S. Paul de
Loanda. Each rise is bounded north and south by low
ground, almost on the Lagoon's level, with deep water
during the rains, rarely quite dry, and at all times a fetid
and malarious formation. These features in the upper
country are often of considerable size, and three of them,
as will be seen, were the natural frontiers of independent
principalities. After the last water, a steady but almost
imperceptible rise, like that from Kana to Agbome, leads
to the town of Whydah. The road is detestable, and
absolutely requires hammock men ; the slave-dealers
have persuaded the authorities that whilst it is in this
state, their town will be less liable to unfriendly visits.
Passing up a marigot, or branch channel, worn down
by porters' feet to a deep wet ditch, we soon reached the
half-way place, a second sandy oasis, the site of the
village of Zumgboji. 1 It is a poor place an enlarged
edition of the De-nun containing a few thatched mat-
huts, with "compounds," or bartons, of the same material,
and outlying fields of grain and vegetables, where Fetish
i The Ffon, or Dahoman, a dialect of the great Yoruba family,
has, like the Egba, or Abeokutan language, a G and a Gb, the latter
at first inaudible to our ears, and difficult to articulate without long
practice. On the other hand, it has a P (e.g., in Po-su), as well as a
Kp (for instance, kpakpa, a duck), whereas the Egba possesses only
22 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
cords acted hedges. We all descended from our
hammocks, despite the heat, to greet the head Fetish-
man, a dignitary fat and cosy as ever was the f rate or the
parson of the good old times. He stood with dignity
under a white "Kwe-ho," the tent-umbrella, which here
marks the caboceer ; it was somewhat tattered, because
these spiritual men care not to make a show of splendour.
He snapped fingers with us, after " Country custom,"
palm never being applied to palm except by the
Europeanised ; as throughout Yoruba the thumb and
mid-index are sharply withdrawn on both sides after the
mutual clasp, and this is repeated twice to four times, the
former being the general number. After the greeting, he
sat down upon what is called a Gold-Coast stool, cut out
of .a single block of wood, 1 whilst two young if not pretty
wives handed to us drinking water in small wine-glasses.
This appears to be a thorough Dahoman peculiarity, which
extends even to the Court. When pure 2 the element is
considered a luxury, it serves to prepare the mouth for
something more genial, and it is a sign that treachery is
not intended. We were then regaled with rum Brazilian
Caxa$a too sour even for Ruxton's Kruman, who
regarded the proceedings of the day with the goguenard
air of a Parisian diminutif at a rustic Main's ball. Three
toasts are demanded by ceremony, and they must be
drunk standing. You bow, you choquez the glasses in
continental style, and you exclaim, "Sin diyye!" "This
is water ! " when it is not and your compotator responds
1 When last in England, I saw sundry of these articles at the
Turkish Bath in Jermyn Street, and very much out of place they
2 At Whydah the wells are about thirty feet deep, and the water
is bad: they want a lining of lime and charcoal at the bottom. In
the English fort, according to Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 120), after
digging twenty feet deep, the soil was the same as at the top ; at
twelve feet they came upon a family sepulchre, decomposed human
bones, and rusty anklets and armlets.
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 23
"Sin ko 1 " "(May the) Water (cool your) throat !" In
former days the spirits used to be poured from one glass
into all the others, showing that they did not contain
poison. The custom is now obsolete. Happily it is
unnecessary to swallow all the trade stuff to which
hospitality is here reduced ; you touch it with the lips,
and hand it to a neighbour, who is certain to leave no
heel-taps. If he be a common fellow, and you wish to be
peculiarly countrified, you sign to him to kneel : he opens
his gape like a fledgling to its parent, without touching
the cup or glass, and you toss the contents into his
mouth, taking care that half of it should deluge his beard,
if he has any. 2
After again snapping fingers, which, barbarous as
it is, I infinitely prefer, near the Line, to hand-shaking,
we remounted hammocks, and crossed the 400 yards of
Zumgboji's sandy islet. At the further end we again
alighted to receive the compliments of the village captain 3
here all are captains a thin, and almost black old
man, the type of a Dahoman Caboceer. He presented us
with kola nut (Sterculia acuminata) and Malaguetta pepper
(Amomum granum paradisi), which eaten together greatly
resemble the Pan supari or areca nut and betel leaf of the
East Indians. 4 After a few minutes we were once more
allowed to advance. Another brownish-yellow water,
i The o in this word, as in Po-su, is sounded much like aw in the
2 Some of the waggish kings have made their servants lie flat
on the ground, and swallow, in that position, a bottle of rum at a
3 The Dahoman word is "gan" : our caboceer is a corruption of
the Lusitano- African "caboceiro," a head man.
4 The Preface to the History of Dahome, written by some un-
known hand, and unworthy of the rest of the book, confuses them,
informing us that the kola grows on lofty trees, and seemed to
Bosman to be a species of the " areka or beetle." p. 9.
24 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
with a black miry sole which called loudly for quinine,
formed the path:! then we issued upon a hot open sandy
and grass-cleared road, fifteen feet broad, and leading
\ with gradual up-slope to the town. In the middle of itis
a dwarf ficus, called the ' '.Captain's Tree," because here
the first reception ceremony of merchant skippers has been
from days of old, and is still performed. jThe place around
is named Agonji the "Gonnegee" offhe History where
enemies have so often encamped when attacking Whydah.
Under the friendly shade we saw a table spread with a
bit of white calico cloth, and around it the Mission boys
had ranged chairs. Whilst expecting the town caboceers
we had an opportunity of glancing at Whydah land.
The country now wears an unwholesome aspect, and
the smell reminds me of the Campagna di Roma, threaten-
ing fever and dysentery. The tall grass is not yet ripe
for burning; in two months it will disappear, rendering
an ambuscade impossible, and allowing a pretty view of
Whydah. Not a tenth of the land is cultivated ; the
fallow system is universal, and when a man wants fresh
ground he merely brings a little dash to the caboceer.
The cultivators will begin in February to fire the stubbles,
and the women will turn up the earth with hoes, and let
the charred stalks and roots decay into manure. The
seed is sown by two sowers ; one precedes, and drills the
ground with a bushman's stick or a hoe handle ; the
second puts in the grain and covers it with the heel,
an operation left to a third person if there be more
than two. The seeds are not mixed. From three to
four grains of maize, six to ten of Guinea corn, and
two of beans, are deposited, against risk of loss, in the
same hole. The first harvest takes place in Sep-
tember. The people will then at once burn, hoe, and
sow again, getting in the second crop about December.
In the interior the winter yield often does not ripen till
January or February, and if the light showers of the
III. We EnttY Whydah in State. 25
season are deficient, it is burned by the sun. The
produce, though not counted, is said to be a hundredfold.
This should satisfy the agriculturist, however covetous.
Truly it is said that whilst the poor man in the North is
the son of a pauper, the poor man in the Tropics is the
son of a prince.
We were not kept waiting long ; at that time no
great men lingered in Whydah. As usual the junior
ranks preceded. Each party, distinct like our regiment,
advanced under its own flag, closely followed by its band,
composed of four kinds of instruments, which can hardly
be called musical. The rattle is a bottle-shaped gourd
covered with a netting of fine twine, to which are attached
snake's vertebrae ; it is held in the right, with the neck
downwards, and tapped against a thin strip of wood in
the other hand. There are also decanter-shaped rattles
of woven fibre, containing cowries, but these are not
common. The drums are of many varieties, and all of
unequal sizes, to vary the sounds : that which takes the
lead is the hollowed log, described by all travellers from
Jamaica to Zanzibar, and to African ears it is full of
meaning as a telegram. The horn is a small scrivello
with a large oblong hole near the point, so as to act as a
speaking-trumpet, and pierced at the top, where the left
thumb, by opening or closing it, converts it into a two-
noted bugle. Mungo Park commends it for its resem-
blance to the human voice ; an older traveller describes it
as "making a grating bellowing noise, like a company of
bulls or ass-negros." The panigan, 1 or African cymbaf,
as it is unaptly called, is generally a single unbrazed
tongueless bell, about a foot long, including the handle,
which is either of solid iron or brass, and sometimes
silver knobbed, or of pierced metal-work ; a thin bit of
bamboo, some ten to eleven inches long, causes the tube
i The performer is called Pani-gan (gong-gong), ho (beat or
strike), and to (he who does).
26 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
to give out a small dead sound. It is the Chingufu of
the South Coast, and my ears still tingle with its infliction
on the lake Tanganyika. Sometimes this "gong-gong" is
double, a shorter appendage being lashed or soldered to
the larger instrument at the apices by an angle of 45, or
a pair of similar-sized bells are connected by an arched
iron bar. The player strikes first the long, then the short,
tube, thus ting ! tang ! or in double sets, one, two ! one,
two ! This renders the sound different (similar to our
public clocks in England when striking the quarters), and
two notes become evident. Nor is the band complete
without the voice accompaniment of fierce shouting and
singing which would almost drown the organ of Haarlem.
After each band came a shabby white umbrella, 1 of
which there were five, denoting the number of colonels or
soldier chiefs. They were distinguished by a superior
dress ; one man wore a dwarf pair of polished silver
horns fastened to a lanyard fillet, and projecting above
the organ of "Causality. 2 " They were followed each by
a highlander's "tail," and the total may have amounted to
250 men. The greater number wore the uniform of the
English or Blue Company, here called " Bru," indigo-
dyed tunics or kilts extending to the knee and loosely
closed over the breast, and cotton caps or white fillets,
with sprawling crocodiles of azure hue sewn on to them,
one on each side of the head. No two costumes were
quite alike ; some had bark strips in their hair, round
their waists, and fastened to their billy-cock hats ; others
1 Throughout Africa, like Asia, it is a sign of dignity. Here it
is figuratively used for the dignitary himself. ' ^Seven jjmbrellas
have fallen," means as many commanding officers have beenTnflecL _
2 M. Wallon, Lieutenant de Vaisseau, who twice visited
Agbonne, in 1856 and 1858, says that these horns are a sign of
eunuchry, but they are not so. Le Royaume de Dahomey (Revue
Maritime et Coloniale, Aout, 1861 : a second part, containing that
officer's journey to Agbonne, was promised, but has never, I believe,
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 27
wore felts and straws ; whilst all had their Fetishes or
charms birds' claws and small wooden dolls smeared
red as though with blood. The " Ffon Chokoto," the
Egban Shokoto, and the East Indian Janghirs, femoralia,
or short drawers, hardly reaching to the knee, must, by
imperial order, be worn under the war tunic by all the
soldiery, male and female ; sometimes long calico tights,
in Moslem fashion, are seen. Their arms are tolerable
muskets, kept in very good order, but of course invariably
flint ; useless horse pistols, short swords, and African
battle-axes with blades three fingers broad and the tangs
set in the hafts. Their ammunition was supposed to be
contained in home-made cartridge-boxes of European
pattern or in bandoleers, which acted for waist-belts, and
comprised about a dozen wooden cylinders, like needle-
cases, containing at least four times the amount of powder
that would be used by us.
The style of parade is one throughout the kingdom.
Each several party advanced at a pas de charge, bending
low, and simulating an attack. This is here, as in
Uganda, and amongst sundry tribes of Kafirs proper, an
acknowledgment of greatness. Then the chief of each
peloton came forward, snapped fingers with us as we sat
on our chairs under the tree, our guards ranged on the
right, a mob of gazers women scratching and boys
pulling on the left, and an open space in front. This
personal greeting over, he at once returned to his men.
Afterwards forming a rude close column, the only known
manoeuvre, the several parties perambulated us three
times from right to left, and ended by halting in front. 1
There, with a hideous outcry, hopeless to describe, cap-
tain and men, with outstretched right arms, raised their
i In this cii cumambulation they showed us the left shoulder, and
I afterwards observed that the right side is always presented to the
king. So Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 223) was told that on horseback he
must not form circle to the right, that being a royal privilege.
2 8 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
sticks, bill-hooks, or muskets to an angle of forty-five
degrees, the muzzle in the air, like a band of conspirators
on the English stage. This is the normal salute, the
" present arms" of Dahome.
Right soon, fatigued with these serious manoeuvres,
our warriors fell to singing and dancing, a passion amongst
these people ; all are fanatici per la musica here. Ruxton,
fresh from Canada, could not help remarking what a
contrast a pow-wow of redskins would have presented.
The chorus had a queer ballet appearance, and a civilised
composer might have borrowed a motive or two from the
recitative. It became even more theatrical when the
largest corps advanced, singing, and upholding in their
left hands leafy branches, palm boughs, and long grasses,
which were afterwards thrown upon and trampled to the
ground. An tnerguntene, with a horse-tail, the symbol of
a professional singer or drummer, first shrieked extem-
pore praises of the king and of his guests, pointing the
compliment by shaking the forefinger, as is done to
naughty boys in England, and then the whole rout joined
in the response. At times a chief or a warrior would
plunge into the ring and perform a pas seul. The prin-
cipal dances were two. The bravery dance consisted in
grounding the musket, sword, or tomahawk, to show that
the foe had fallen. The performer, whose face must be
blackened with gunpowder, like a musical and itinerant
Ethiopian, then took a billhook with a broad blade ending
in almost a circle, and with the tang let into the wood, a
weapon more for show than for use ; or he preferred a
crooked stick, like a short-cut houlette, or the third of an
East Indian " latti," garnished with rows of square-
headed nails, or strengthened with a ring-like twist of
iron. Thus armed, he went through the process of
decapitation. It was conventional rather than an imita-
tion of reality : the left hand was held with the edge
upwards, and parallel to the body, moving in concert
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 29
with the weaponed right, which made a number of short
drawing cuts, about two feet from the ground, whilst
the legs and feet performed ecarts, which are here in-
The other was the regular Dahoman dance. It is a
tremendous display of agility, Terpsichore becoming more
terrible than Mars. One month of such performance
would make the European look forward to a campaign as
to a time of rest. The jig and the hornpipe are repose
compared with it. It is grotesque as the Danse Chinoise,
in which the French dancing-master of one's youth, of
course an ancien militaire, used gravely to superintend the
upturning of thumbs and toes. The arms are held in
the position preferred by the professional runner, the
hands paddle like a swimming dog's paws, the feet shuffle
or stamp as if treading water, the elbows are jerked so as
nearly to meet behind the back with a wonderful "jeti des
omoplates," and the trunk joins in the play, the posteriors
moving forwards and backwards to the pedal beat-time.
The body is not, as in Asia, divided, as it were into two,
the upper half steady, and the lower taking violent exer-
cise. Here, there is a general agitation of the frame,
jerked in extreme movement to front and rear. As all
these several actions, varied by wonderful shakings,
joltings, grimaces, and contortions, must be performed
rapidly, simultaneously, and in perfect measure to the
music, it is not only a violent, it is also a very difficult
performance, exceeding even the Hindu Nautch, or the
Egyptian Alimeh's feats. As a calisthenic exercise, it is
invaluable. The children begin as soon as they can
toddle. It is, perhaps, the most amusing thing in
Dahome to see them apeing their elders. 1
i Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 292) compares the shoulder motion with
the gymnastic exercise used to expand the chest of the British
soldier, but much quicker. The rest of the dance is a " rotatory
movement of the hips, changing to a backward and forward motion
30 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The dancing was relieved at times by a little firing.
Ammunition did not seem to superabound, and I detected
several warmen privily borrowing from their neighbours,
which showed that the defaulters had been making away
with government stores. The parade ended with the
normal drinking, after which we were allowed to remount
A few yards from the " Captain's tree " led us to the
southern extremity of the town. It is entered by a
trivia ; the path to the right leads to the Portuguese fort,
to the left is the French factory ; whilst we pursued our
way straight in front, through the Ajudo Akhi-men, or
Whydah market. Crowds were collected to see the
king's " new strangers," who were bringing tribute to
Dahome. The men bared their shoulders, doffing their
caps and large umbrella hats, whilst the women waved a
welcome, and cried " Oku," to which we replied " Oku
de 'u 1 " and " Atyan," the normal salutations of the
country. Followed by an ever-increasing train, we passed
a long gaunt structure, called the Brazilian Fort. In the
open space before it, on civilised chairs, clad in white
turbands, in loose blue dresses, and in snowy chemisettes,
allowed to expose at least half the walnut-coloured back,
and emitting, with the jauntiest air, volumes of cigar
smoke, sat a number of " yaller " ladies. Conspicuous
amongst them by her chevelure, which looked like a
of a most disgusting description." The Lifeguardsman was marvel-
lous "nice" and "proper."
i In the Egba tongue, Oku, or Aiku (hence the trivial name,
"Akoo people"), is a noun, "immortality," and an adjective, "not
able to die, alive." Oku de 'u is the normal Dahoman salutation, Oku
being understood to signify, "I compliment you," or "thanks";
whilst de 'uis explained by " still doing," or " still making." Various
shortenings of the word are exchanged, e.g., oku de 'u, de 'u, 'u, 'u.till
both saluter and salutee have had enough. At an early hour they
say, " Oku de 'u Afwan," good morning ; or " Afwan dagbwe a ? " is
it a good morning? In the evening, "Oku de 'u baddan ! " good
evening ! Atyan means " Are you well? "
III. We Enter Why dak in State. 31
closely-fitting cap of Astrachan wool, ceasing abruptly
without diminishing towards the neck or temples, 1 was
the Bride of Whydah, the fair Sabina, of whom many
have had cauSe to sing,
Nee fidum fcemina nomen
Ah, pereat ! didicit fallere siqua virum.
Arrived at the English Fort, we dismounted at the
place where the drawbridge has been, and, accompanied
by the military chiefs, we repaired to a shady arbour in
the middle of the enceinte, a normal feature in the Euro-
pean habitations of Whydah. There we found a table
thickly covered with bottles of water, sherry, gin, rum,
and other chief-like delicacies. We drank with the
visitors, as the custom is, to the health of Her Majesty of
England, to the King of Dahome, and to our own
" bonally." Half stifled with heat and with human atmos-
phere, we were allowed, by ceremony, to retire at three
P.M., five mortal hours spent in accomplishing the work
of forty-five minutes ! The reception concluded with a
salute. The chief fired in our honour forty muskets,
powder-crammed to half way up the barrel, and we gave
them seventeen cannonades in return. The style of load-
ing great guns quite satisfied me why so many eyes and
hands are missing at Whydah. The Sikhs, under Runjit
Singh, used to astonish the weak mind of the British
artillerist by the rapidity of their fire, sponging being
dispensed with, and the powder baled into the muzzle
from an open tumbril near the carriage. But Asiatic
recklessness is not to be compared with that of the negro.
The landing rites concluded on the next day. About
noon the troops marched up in loose column to the cleared
space before the English Fort, and were formed, with
i In marking this as a characteristic difference between the hair
growth of the negro and of the white man, it must be remembered that
in these regions, as in Asia, all manner of pile is removed either by
the razor or by the tweezers.
32 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
abundant pushing, objurgation and retort, into the half
of a square. They repeated the scene of yesterday :
single braves advancing crouched to the combat, making
violent improvise speeches, pointing forefingers, tossing
heads, and spitting out their words, so that a stranger
would suppose he was being by them grossly insulted.
There was the usual decapitation, singing and dancing,
chorus and ballet ; even the small boys sprang into the
arena, displaying admirable activity, and stamping with
the grace and vigour of young bears.
The preliminary concluded, all flocked into the com-
pound, and the civilian chiefs crowded the large room.
The old Ka-wo, 1 whose jurisdiction extends to the
Ahwan-gan or war captains of all the maritime regions,
preferred, after salutation, to sit on his stool of state, in
a white night-cap, under an umbrella in the court-yard.
The Viceroy and the Chacha, or commercial chief, being
absent at the capital, their places were occupied by three
dignitaries. The first mandarin was the Ainadu, 2 acting-
viceroy for Gelele, the present king, a short, dark, pock-
marked man, with very little clothing. The second
magistrate, who, if white-washed, might pass muster for
1 The word must not be confounded with " Gau," the commander-
in-chief of the Dahoman army. The " Ka-wo " is the " Caukaow or
General of Whydah," mentioned in the History, and spoken of as the
" Cakawo amongst the Dahomans." The tradition is, that it was an
honourable name given, long before the days of Agaja, the conqueror
of Whydah, to a brave chief, who pursued the enemy over the Wo
(pronounced Waw) River, which divides Whydah from the Nago, or
Agoni (i.e., Egbado, or lower Egba) country. Etymologically, the
word is explained by Ka (for ka-ka, i.e., very much, or) long (i.e., fol-
lowing the foe till the) Wo (river). It has, since the conquest, been
continued by the Dahoman kings.
2 This is the title of office ; the personal name in Dahome can
hardly be said to exist ; it changes with every rank of the holder. The
dignities seem to be interminable ; except amongst the slaves and the
canaille, "handles" are the rule, not the exception, and most of them
III. We Enter Whydah in State. 33
a very ugly European, 1 was Nyan-kpe (the Lesser), who
represented the acting-viceroy for Gezo, the last king.
I must observe here, without entering into details, that
Dahoman officials, male and female, high and low, are
always in pairs, a system, methinks, which might be
adopted by more civilized nations settled in Western
Africa. Duplicates are required by climate, and whilst
the invalid is at home on sick leave the convalescent
might act for him. Here, however, the objects of the
double tenure are twofold ; the new king does not wish
hastily to degrade his father's old and unfaithful servants ;
knowing their misdeeds, he neutralises their influence by
appointing as their aids younger men, of higher rank in
the empire, and he ousts them when he reasonably can.
Meanwhile, he supposes the aspirant to represent his own
as distinguished from his sire's rule. The other motive
is to keep the elder in check, and perhaps to give the
younger, as candidate for the better appointment, an
opportunity of mastering the really complicated details of
The third chief then and there present was the
Atakpa-loto, alias Podoji 2 : he is spy, or to use a more
delicate term, " second in command " and assistant to
Prince Chyudaton, the sub-viceroy, of whom more pre-
i I may as well state at once, that amongst the pure negroes I
have never seen the " purely Caucasian features" alluded to by young
African travellers : amongst the negroids, or noble race, sometimes,
z The words mean literally, Podo-ji (he who steps in), No-to (the
interior court of any royal house or palace-yard). The more common
expression is Legede. It denotes a spy or reporter, with whom
every official in Dahome is provided. The " miching malecho"
system is here perfect : if a captain is sent to prison, he must be
accompanied by his Legede, who prevents the wives sending food,
and who is answerable for the sentence being carried out in its strict-
ness. Dr. M'Leod (p. 86) quotes a native saying, " The su'ish walls
can speak in this country."
VOL. I. 3
34 A Mission to Geleh, King of Dahome.
sently. He acts as assessor to the other dignitaries in
supervising the custom-takers and the royal store-keepers,
and in settling small causes, such as petty debts and the
disobedience of wives and slaves.
The chiefs at once took high ground, gruffly declaring
that they brought the King's word, that is to say, a royal
message, and directed us to stand up. I refused so to do
till the royal cane, the symbol of the owner's presence,
was brought into the assembly, and was prostrated to by
all in the room. They then welcomed me, saying that
the monarch had sent as reception gift, a goat, a pig, a
pair of fowls, and forty yams. Of course the offering
came from themselves, and required a suitable return,
that is to say, anything between twice and twenty times
its value. Having despatched them, we descended into
the court, and presented a case of gin (= five dollars) to
the Ka-wo. After a long speech he perorated by offering
to fight for me. My reply was, that as a commandant
of Amazons, a dignity conferred upon me during my last
visit, I could fight for myself. Under the cover of loud
applause excited by this mildest of retorts, we made our
escape and withdrew into the fort.
The same chiefs did not fail, after my return from
Dahome, to call and beg another present. I refused
them peremptorily, thinking it unadvisable to establish
such a precedent. The African, like the Jew to whom
you have paid only twice too much, is miserable if he
fancies that you escape from htm with a farthing.
The first night surprised me by the contrast of the
din of voices inside the house, and the dead silence
beyond its walls. The streets are empty at dusk, as in
the days of the Norman curfew ; few venture out after
dark without a lantern, though the use is not, as in Cairo
and most parts of Asia, imperative. The constabulary
is admirable ; two men squat in forms like hares, and
startle the stranger by suddenly rising and by flashing
HI. We Enter Whydah in State. 35
their torches to scan his features : if he has lost his way
they will escort him with all the politeness of a policeman.
At times the Ka-wo, who is the local Sir R. Mayne, goes
his rounds, and the stick falls heavily upon those caught
napping. Hence, even in this head-quarters of the
demoralising slave-trade, and where every man is a
finished rascal, 1 crimes of violence are, among the natives,
exceedingly rare. Murder at Whydah is unknown, except
en cachette ; housebreaking, save after a fire, is almost im-
possible ; and a man will leave with impunity clothes
hanging up in his courtyard, he would not do it twice
at Lagos. Mr. Bernasko, who has lived here eight years,
never hesitates to walk out at night armed with nothing
but a walking-stick. Theft is reduced to petty larceny,
which, however, is universal ; there is nothing that these
people will not pilfer, and they will keep up the character
given by all travellers to their forefathers. In out-
stations, like Godome, there is of course much more of
open crime, and the discipline of the subject is exceed-
ingly lax. Whydah is a " white man's town," and under
4hd- direct supervision of the King/ who rarely interferes
with the administration ; hence the frequent small abuses.
If any evil report reaches the capital, a royal messenger
comes down, and the authorities tremble.
i Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 113) says, " The natives of Whydah are
the most depraved and unprincipled villains in all Africa, or perhaps
in the world. Were it not for M. de Suza and his friends, indeed,
there would be no safety for white men."
A WALK ROUND WHYDAH.
THE three following days enabled us to study the
topography of Whydah. The present town stands about
T .^ 2 direct miles north of the sea ; separated from the
shore by a broad leek-green swamp, by a narrow lagoon,
and by a high sandbank, whose tufted palms and
palmyras, of a deep invisible green approaching black,
form a hogsback, over which the masts of shipping only
can be seen from the houses. The site wears the tricolour
of S'a Leone, light and milky-blue sky, verdigris grass,
and bright red argillaceous soil, with a blending shade of
grey. The " ferruginous-looking clay," which in India
and China has been suspected of emitting a " pestiferous
mineral gas," and of causing the " cachexia loci," seems
here to lose part of its injurious power. The town is not
exceedingly unhealthy, despite its extreme filth, and
although the deep holes from which the building material
has been extracted are as great a nuisance as in Abeo-
kuta and Sokoto. Indeed, as a rule, it is less deadly
than other places on the Slave Coast, especially Lagos
and Badagry. The nights are cool, and the day-breeze
is, if anything, somewhat too strong for safety. At this
season the people do not sufferfrom mosquitoes, " much
provoking the exercise of a man's nails," as the old trav-
eller has it.
Beneath the surface soil there is a substratum of
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 37
pure white sand overlying argil deeply tinctured with
iron oxide from the northern hills ; and another bed of
pure sand is supported by white clay to a depth of thirty-
five feet : it is supposed that below this figure marine
deposits would occur. The highest part of the town,
that is to say the west end, is not more than forty feet
above the sea, and this we may assume to be the height
of the first floor of the English Fort, which lies about the
centre. After a shower the land is as viscid and muddy
as that about Upper Norwood, and such indeed is the
condition of the whole country, especially at Kana and in
the capital. The earth when powdered, puddled, and
exposed to the sun, becomes hard like bricks, which
could be made, but which are not \vanted. The old English
fort has lasted upwards of a century.
The greatest length of the town, which extends from
south-east to north-west, is about two miles by half a
mile in depth. There is no attempt at fortification, as
there is in the capital ; but every house could be held
against musketry. From the beach a few of the tallest
habitations, backed by giant trees, meet the view, and
prepare the visitor for something grandiose. The squalor
within, however, contrasts sharply with the picturesque
aspect from without. Whydah is a ruined place, every-
thing showing decay, and during the last three years, it
has changed much for the worse. As in all Yoruba
towns, the houses are scattered, and, except round the
principal market-place, there is far more bush than build-
ing. The environs are either marshes or fields, palm-
orchards, or bosquets of great but savage beauty ; the
fine and highly-cultivated farms found near Whydah by
Mr. Duncan l no longer exist.
The population of the town, which could accom-
modate 50,000 souls, is variously estimated. Some have
i Travels in Western Africa in 1845-1846. By John Duncan,
late of First Life Guards. Vol. i. p. 185.
38 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
raised it to 30,000. Dr. M'Leod (1803) calculates 20,000.
M. Wallon (1858) proposes 20,000 25,000, but he is by
no means a correct observer. The French Mission,
which has perhaps the best chance of ascertaining the
truth, lays down the number at 12,000 ; and during war
this may be reduced to half. The Christians (Catholics)
exceed 600 ; about 200 boys are known to the mission-
aries, and on an average during the year the latter
baptise no. The fathers are also of opinion that the
The word " Whydah " is a compound of blunders.
It should be written Hwe-dah, 1 and be applied to the
once prosperous and populous little kingdom whose
capital was Savi. A "bush town" to the westward, sup-
posed to have been founded and to be still held by the
aboriginal Whydahs, who fled from the massacres of
Dahome, still retains the name Hwe-dah. The cele-
brated slave-station which we have dubbed " Whydah,"
is known to the people as Gre-hwe or Gle-hwe, 2 " Planta-
A very brief resume of its stirring past is here neces-
sary. According to tradition, Whydah, as I shall still
call it, was originally a den of water-thieves and pirates,
who paid unwilling allegiance to the kings of Savi.
About the middle of the seventeenth century it rose to
the rank of a prosperous ivory mart and slave port. In
1725, it was first attacked by Agaja the Conqueror, fourth
1 Hwe, in the Ffon dialect, means a house and grounds, as in
Grehwe, for which see the next note. No one, however, could ex-
plain to me the etymological meaning of Hwe-dah.
2 Gre, or Gle it is hard to know which to write is a "planta-
tion," not a " garden," as it is often translated; Gre-ta, or Gle-ta, is
a bush or uncleared ground; and Gre-ta-nun, or Gle-ta-nun, is a bush
man. Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 141) says, " The former name of Why-
dah was Grihwee, or Grighwee, but since its subjection to Dahomy it
has become part of that territory, and received its present name "
the reverse being the case.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 39
King of Dahome, the Guadja Trudo of the History,
nominally for selling to him muskets without locks, really
because, like all African monarchs, the height of his \
ambitionNvas a point on the seaboard where he could /
trade direct with Europeans. The place after capture/
\v;is called by him " plantation-house," meaning that it
must supply food to Agbome the capital. So the History
informs us the King of Eyeo (Oyo) used to say that
Ardrah (Allada) was " Eyeo's Calabash," out of which
nobody should be permitted to eat but the king himself.
The Europeans, ever greedy of change in these dull
lands, seem at first to have favoured Dahome against
Whydah. For which reason, and because they are
officially called " King's Houses," the Forts receive cer-
tain honours. Before the Viceroy can leave the town,
and when he returns to it, 1 he must visit them officially
in person, and he must pray at the Portuguese Fort,
which is held to be the head-quarters of the white man's
faith. He enters with his suite, and as the King's repre-
sentative, he wears his sword ; this, however, as well as
the fetishes with which he is hung round, must, previous
to the function, be removed. Before the present estab-
lishment was sent, the black priests at Whydah used to
offer him holy water ; now it is refused, and he walks to
the font to barbouiller his face ; the missioners perform
prayers, but without their sacramental robes, and he
follows suit to the best of his ability. The King often
sends a message requesting the orisons of the white men,
which are not refused to him ; and Christianity being a
recognised religion in Dahome, on the day of S. John
midsummer he transmits by his Viceroy a pot of oil and
a bottle of rum as his acknowledgment of faith. These
viceregal visits have at times been dangerous : in 1745,
i The Viceroy never goes to war ; he is supposed to look after
Whydah. His deputy, the Sub- Viceroy, is expected to be present at
40 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
the Eunuch Yevo-gan "Tanga," raising the standard of
revolt, proposed to seize the English Fort, and was pre-
vented only by the vigilance of the governor, Mr.
Gregory. Offences committed in the " King's houses "
are visited with a double penalty ; a native stealing from
them will surely be put to death : on the other hand, he
may take sanctuary in and cannot be ejected from the
Portuguese Fort without the consent of the missioners.
The English Fort has the shameful distinction of being
protected by two fetishes, Dohen and Ajaruma, the
Defenders of White men. 1
Whydah, like the capital, is a -Qongeries of villages
divided into five " salams " or quarters, each under its
own caboceer, and governed by the Viceroy, who has
dwarfed the minor officials to mere captains. These are
1. Ahwanjigo, or Salam Frangais, on the north-west
and west, French Town, directly under the Viceroy.
2. Ajudo, Ajido Chacha, or Brazilian Town, under
the captain, Nodofre.
3. Sogbaji, or English town : it has no governor ; the
King urged me to take it, but I declined, without receiv-
ing orders from home.
4. Dukomen, Portuguese Town, on the east and
west, under the Caboceer Bonyon. These four quarters
have their forts 2 : the last is
5. Zobeme, or Market town, lately under the Cabo-
ceer Nyonun, whose successor will be presently appointed.
i The History of Dahome mentions a third, now ignored, " Nab-
v ^ bakou," the "titular god of the English Castle in Whydah." See
chap. xvii. of this book.
i In the Dahoman tongue, "Zoj age" is a Frenchman, " Aguda-
yevo" a Portuguese or Brazilian, " Kan-kan-yevo " a Dutchman,
" Payonunyevo " a Spaniard, and "Glensi" an Englishman. The
"English mother," an officeress at Court, is called " Glensi-no."
In Mr. Duncan's time the Portuguese quarter was far superior to all
the others ; it is not so now.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 41
I now propose to conduct the reader through the
town, and to describe its principal sites.
Beginning from the south-east, we remark the De-
nun or toll-house which guards the entrance of every
Dahoman town, and the multitude of little fetish huts,
where the trader, after doing his devoir to the King, is
expected to be not less dutiful to the gods. The streets
are mere continuations of the bush-paths, but except in
the wettest weather, they are not bad walking after Sandy
Lagos. They are formed by the walls of the compounds
and by the backs of the houses, which are all built in a uni-
form manner. The material is the red pise of Britanny
and Sind heaped up in three or four courses, but by law
never more : each course is from a foot and a half to two
feet high ; the material has neither straw nor stone, but
sometimes, as in Popo, oyster-shell is used to strengthen
it. Each layer is covered during erection with a weather
thatch, and is left to dry, for three days in a harmattan,
and for ten in the wet seasons : it presently hardens to
the consistency of freestone, and is, in fact, the national
adobe. The rain torrents wash away the softer parts, and
cut cracks down the sides if not protected from above : a
certain mixture of salt in the soil causes the base to crum-
ble the more readily, because here they do not, as on the
GoM Coast, support it by growing cactus. A careful
man repairs his wall in the early " dries." The estab-
lishments are extensive, sometimes covering acres. I
saw only one being built, whilst many allowed me to walk
over the broken-down walls, and almost all were exter-
nally in ruins. As in Asiatic Turkey, however, the in-
terior often belies the wretched exterior, and behind the
blown-off thatch, leaving bare ribs and poles perilously
protruding, there are snug inner rooms. The poorer
classes have compounds of matting. The roof, not unlike
that of an East Indian bungalow, is made of palm,
palmyra, and thick grass, mounted on a frame of lopped
42 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
and cleaned branches, with girders of bamboo ; and often
it is raised in the " flying " form, to secure coolness.
There are no windows, except in the Forts. Their places
are taken by doors opening under the projecting eaves,
that rest upon stout posts and trunks, especially those of
the valuable and abundant palmyra.
Striking into the main street, the tolerably straight
road, which, running from east to west, bisects the town,
we sight the Portuguese fort, the smallest but the best situ-
ated for quiet and coolness. Of these buildings there are
now four at Whydah, in order of seniority, French, Bra-
zilian, English, and Portuguese. The first-named people
began the trade, and the second is probably erected upon
the old Dutch factory, although the name is clean forgot-
ten. The Brandenburgher (Prussian) African Company
also built a strong factory at Whydah in 1684, but it long
ago disappeared. With the exception of the Brazilian
Fort, all these buildings lie in a line from E.S.E. to
W.N.W. : after the stone defences of the Gold Coast,
these swish establishments are by no means imposing,
and, except in the case of the Frenchman, for " Fort " we
must read " Factory" or " School."
The Portuguese Fort is surrounded by a moat, whose
depth is concealed by a mass of vegetation : the people of
the country prefer for defence a ditch in this state. The
defences, a square compound bastioned at the angles,
and the battery of rusty guns, are here purposely neglected.
The main building, a large double-storied house, with
walls thick as an old Norman castle, fronts westward.
Lately repaired, it has a central saloon flanked by dormi-
tories, and a long refectory on the ground-floor. It is
pierced with a deep hollow gateway, protected outside by
two honeycombed guns. Over it is the Lusitanian scutch-
eon, minus the wooden crown, which perished during
a late fire. Portuguese ordinances are still affixed to the
door, and at the Southern bastion the blue and white
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 43
flag yet flies on high days and holidays. In the compound
are a detached chapel and belfry with two bells, dateless,
but belonging to the former occupants : both are of swish
work, and their mat roofs are distinguished from afar by
two little wooden crosses. On the north and fronting the
chapel is a range of small ground-floor rooms and refectory.
These the missionaries find less unhealthy, curious to say,
than the double-storied building, where, they assert, the
sea-breeze gives them fever. They have been careful,
however, to dig under their plan" terreno, and to lay down
a board flooring, whilst they look forward to raising
houses on piles six feet high with a draught of air beneath.
All is industry in this " Fort," a garden and a southern
range of buildings are being made, quarters for the work-
men and school-children are already available, and the
church and belfry are considered to be merely temporary.
The " Vicariat Apostolique de Dahome," was erected
by the Holy Father in 1860, and its spiritual direction
was entrusted to the new congregation of the African
Missions, whose mother-house is at Lyons, 243, Rue de la
Guillotiere. In 1860 the congregation of the Propaganda
named as superior of this mission the priest Fra^ois
Borghero, of Genoa, member of the congregation of
African Missions, whose superior-general, residing at
Lyons, is M. 1'Abbe Augustin Planque, of Lille. The first
despatch of missionaries left Toulon, January 3rd, 1861,
on board H.I. M.S. Amazone. It was composed of Messrs,
les Abbes F. Borghero (Italian), Fra^ois Fernandez, a
Spaniard of the diocese of Lugo, in Galicia (died in 1863,
at Whydah), and Louis Edde, a Frenchman of the diocese
of Chatres (he died en route at S'a Leone). The two first
named arrived at Whydah April i8th, 1861 ; on May 6th
of the same year they took possession of their present
" Fort," by permission of the Dahoman authorities, and
with the consent of the Portuguese resident at Whydah.
Since the departure of M. Irene Lafitte, who is intended
44 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
for one of the European establishments, the personnel is
composed of six members. 1 There are ten boarders ; the
number of the other scholars greatly varies, because the
boys attend or stay away as they please. Of adults, I do
not believe that a single convert has been made ; and the
reverend fathers would do well to turn their attention
towards Lagos and Abeokuta.
This Vicariat is not obnoxious to the charge com-
monly brought against Catholic establishments, namely,
that though ardent, enduring, and self-sacrificing, they are
too accommodating to heathenism, and thus they are
unabiding ; whilst Protestant missions, like the constitu-
tion which hatches them, are respectable, comfortable,
and feeble, offering salaries to married men, who in
squabbles about outfit, passage, furlough, and conveyance
of children, manage to spend about ^"500,000 per annum.
Their uncompromising opposition of idolatry has more
than once brought the members into trouble. In Novem-
ber, 1 86 1, M. Borghero visited the King at Agbome, and
the list of his demands may be found in the published
account of his journey to the capital. 2 In March, 1863,
the fort was struck by the lightning-god, Khevioso, the
Shango of the Egbas ; and they are not wanting who sup-
pose that the fetishes, having been worsted in dispute by
the Padres, took the opportunity of a storm to commit the
arson. As the inmates impiously extinguished the fire,
they were heavily fined ; and, on refusing to pay, the
Father-superior was imprisoned. In June of the same
year occurred another dispute, about a sacred snake that
was unceremoniously ejected from the mission premises,
and doubtless this anti-heathenism will bring them to
1 Namely, five priests, MM. Borghero, Emile Cordioux, Verde-
lot, Nodiet, and Vermorel, all French except the first, and one minor,
Francis Cloud, who is about to proceed for ordination to France.
2 See Annales de la Propagation de la Foi (No. 206, January,
1863). Paris: 34, Rue Cassette.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 45
further grief. They look upon things en noir, and naturally
desire, but with little hope, to see Whydah in civilized
hands. I found them intelligent, amiable, and devoted
men, in whose society time sped pleasantly and profitably.
To the excellent Superior especially I had reason to be
grateful for the loan of vocabularies and other papers.
If I say too little, it is for fear of expressing too much.
Near the French Mission, and at the south-eastern
end of the town, is the establishment of M. J. Domingo
Martinez, the best house in " Whydah." The compound
walls are, to obviate fire, tiled, not thatched, and a small
grove of orange trees enlivens the interior. There is an
old ground-floor tenement, by no means uncomfortable,
with large, lofty, and cool rooms, furnished with musical
boxes 1 and other knick-knacks, whilst portraits and oil-
painting, rarities in unartistic Africa, depend from the
walls ; and near it a large double-storied tenement, also
tiled, is being built as a dwelling-place and as a store for oil
When I last called upon M. Martinez he had been
unwell for some weeks : Mr. Cruikshank, who was con-
sulted, did not think his case dangerous. He died
January 25th, 1864, when we were at the capital, and the
death was brought on by a fit of passion not an un-
common occurrence in these hot-tempered lands. 2 He
had long been virtually king of Kutunun, a little post
inland of Jackin, on the Denham waters, and of late
much coveted by the new " Protectors" of Porto Novo.
The latter managed their dollars so well, that the King
1 These articles are one of the curses of the West African coast.
Your white friend can pay you no higher compliment than to wind
up the abominations, and your black friend will start, if he has them,
half-a-dozen at the same time.
2 So during the late fire at Whydah, the Chacha, M. Fr. de
Souza, when he saw his house destroyed, very nearly died of passion.
The same uncontrollable fits of rage have been observed amongst
the Hottentots and the South African bushmen.
46 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
sent his cane to M. Martinez, and a polite message, to
say that his friend would presently be joined by a brother
white man. At first the recipient stared aghast ; soon
understanding the trick, he was seized with a trembling
of passion ; he presently fainted, and he died the same
night, I presume of apoplexy.
M. Martinez was a caboceer of Dahome, entitled to
the umbrella, the chair, and the other insignia of his order.
During his later years he has often said and many a
man has had, and will have, to say the same that he
had learned these people too late. The King claiming
droit d'aubaine over the property of all his defunct subjects,
the key of M. Martinez's house was at once, after his
death, appropriated by the Viceroy of Whydah. He has
left a large family, all by native .women. His eldest son,
Domingo Rafael Martinez, is a youth about twenty ; he is
not uneducated, speaking English and French, although
his father thought it best to keep him in irons for some
years, and thus unteach him the use of the knife. It will
be well for the heir if the deceased has left a "bag" at
M. Martinez is a sore loss to the slaving interest. A
dozen years ago there were at Whydah 200 Spaniards
and Portuguese, including Brazilians and half-castes. By
glancing his eye below, the reader will see how much the
number of these "slave consumers" is reduced. 1 And
i The following is a list of the Portuguese, Brazilians, mulattos,
and civilized Africans now remaining at the great mart. Five
Portuguese, viz. :
1. Antonio Viera da Silva, established at Whydah, Grand-Popo, and
2. Francisco de Souza Maciel.
3. Ignacio de Souza Magallaes : Whydah, Porto Novo, and Badagry.
4. Jacinto Joaquim Rodriguez : Whydah and Porto Novo.
5. J. Suares Pereira : Whydah and Agwe.
Fourteen Brazilians :
i. Francisco Antonio Monteiro.
IV. A Walk roiwd Whydah. 47
the next decade will find all the survivors engaged in
cotton or in palm-oil the " doulometer of the slave-
trade" or in nothing.
M. Martinez had his good points : he was always
courteous and hospitable, even to his bitterest enemies,
2. F. J. Medeiros, now at Agwe (some say he is a Portuguese, born in
the United States).
3. Francisco Olimpio Silva, at Porto Seguro.
4. Marco Borges Ferras.
5. Jofto Pinheiro de Souza, commonly called Taparica.
6. Gulielme Martins do Nascimento.
7. Marcelino dos Martins Silva.
8. Ricardo Augusto Amadie : he speaks French and English.
9. JORO Victor Angelo.
10. Jos6 Francisco dos Santo, commonly called Alfaiate, i.e., the Tailor.
11. Angelo Custodio das Chagas.
12. Joao Antonio Dias.
13. Francisco Giorge.
14. Domingo Rafael Martinez, son of J. Domingo Martinez.
And four Brazilian women, viz. :
1. Maria Elena do Carmo.
2. Benevinde Teresa de Jesus.
3. Leopoldina Teresa de Jesus.
4. Maria da Piedade do Nascimento.
N.B. There are a few Brazilians of minor importance attached
to the above houses.
The ten following are Africans or Brazil liberateds, who are
mostly Nagos (Egbas) or Whydah men. None of them is at all
important, and there are a few others whose names do not deserve
1. Joao Antonio de Rego.
2. Elisbao Lino.
3. Thobias Barreto Brandao.
4. Joaquim das Neves.
5. Damiao de Oliviera, who is considered the best mason at Whydah.
6. Antonio d' Almeida.
7. Jose de Fonceca Muniz, the son of the late J. C. Muniz.
8. Pedro Pinto da Silveira. This is the well-known slaver, Pedro
Cogio, of Little Popo. He has a son residing at Whydah, and managing
the affairs of Jose Alfaiate. His name is,
g. Domingo Francisco da Silveira.
10. Pedro Fellis d'Almeida.
All these are "God-men," which, in Anglo-African, is opposed to
" devil-men," or heathenry.
48 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
the English ; moreover, to his praise be it spoken, he
invariably, like the first Chacha, de Souza, discounten-
anced native cruelties and human sacrifice. He be-
friended the Church Mission in 1846, when hopelessly
stranded at Badagry, and, being a slaver, he gained,
as might be expected, little gratitude. Peace to his
manes, and may he escape the Dahoman Deadland,
where I much doubt that he would be warmly welcomed !
Passing along the main street we now enter the
Zobeme, 1 or Great Market, one of the Whydah " lions."
It is, or rather was, a long thoroughfare, covering at least
an acre, with offsets, cross streets, and here and there a
cleared space. The booths are low, square, open thatch-
sheds, raised upon' chabutaras or benches of well-worked
red clay, about one foot above the passages. They are
either joined or in broken lines, and all are kept clean
with hois de vache. A detached hut proclaims the gin
palace ; the material, bottles and decanters of Brazilian
rum and cheap French liqueurs, with glasses of all sizes,
stands on white cloths, and business seems to be brisk.
Nor are the victualling arrangements less complete ; half
the shops contain either raw or cooked provisions, and
many a "working man" breakfasts and dines in the alley.
This rude bazar is fullest at 4 P.M., when swarms of peo-
i No one could explain the meaning of this word. Z6 means
the later rains, and must not be confounded with Z6, fire, which is
pronounced with a depression of the voice. The Yoruban languages,
like the Chinese, depend upon accents and intonations which are not
ours. For instance, So and Soh, slightly aspirated, is a stick. So,
with a falling of the voice, has the same signification as Khevio-so,
thunder. So, with a rising of the voice, means a horse ; and with
an almost imperceptible variation of voice, means bring; e.g., So, zo,
wa, bring hither fire ! So (pronounced Saw), means yesterday or
to-morrow, a fair specimen of linguistic poverty, and leading to
numerous mistakes. But these delicacies of intonation are inherent
in monosyllabic tongues. That childish form of human language
also delights in imitative words, as Koklo, a " cackler " or fowl (in
Prakrit Kukkur), Kra-kra, a watchman's rattle, and so on.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 49
pie, especially women, meet to buy and sell, "swap" and
barter all the requirements of semi-civilized life. For the
articles most in vogue, I may refer the reader to a previous
publication, 1 and almost any book of travels treating of
the countries of the Upper Niger will show him how far
the system is capable of being carried out. At Whydah,
as at Bombay and Aden, the prices have increased, or
rather have doubled, during the last ten years ; and
despite the complaints of commercial depression, the value
of coin still diminishes. It is a curious contrast, tli^
placidity arid impassiveness with which the seller, hardly \
taking the trouble to remove her pipe, drawls out the
price of her two-cowrie lots, and the noisy excitement of
the buyers, who know that they must purchase and pay
the demand. There is no lack of civility to us amongst
the people, and the children cheer and jeer White Face
without any awe. The two normal African complexions,
red-yellow and brown-black, are very distinct at Whydah,
and here and there we meet features which might belong
to an ugly Sinaitic Badawi. There are also palpable
traces of Caucasian blood in what the Anglo- Indian lady
called " European infantry," a parody upon the " Euro-
pean infamy " of the garrison chaplain.
The only picturesque part of the market-place is to
the Eastward, where there is a hutless space, lined with
shady trees, especially the Hun-ti, or Bombax, under
which the vendors congregate in the glare of the day.
Conspicuous for its beauty is the Lise tree, which the
Fantis of the Gold Coast call Akyen. The Portuguese
have named it the " African cashew." Tall, thick, and
with the darkest green foliage, it is set off by studs of scar-
let apples depending from long stalks. The fruit, which
is eaten at Agbome, is insipid, as are almost all wild
growths, and not a little like a raw turnip. The flower
i Wanderings in West Africa. Abeokuta, chap. iii. See also
Mr. Duncan, vol. i. p. 121.
VOL. I. 4
5 o A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
gives a delicious perfume, and the wood supplies good
potash for soap. The other trees are mostly thick-leaved
oranges and limes, whilst the hedges are of the malarious
croton (Croton tiglium), which here, as in Yoruba generally,
attains the rankest dimensions.
It is impossible at Whydah to mistake the religious-
ness of the Pagan, though we vainly look for any trace of
human relics. Even in the bazar, many a hut will be
girt round with the Zo Vodun, 1 a country rope with dead
leaves dangling to it at spaces of 20 feet. After a conflagra-
tion this Fetish fire prophylactic becomes almost univer-
sal. Opposite the house-gates again we find the Vo-sisa
defending the inmates from harm. It is of many shapes,
especially a stick or a pole, with an empty old calabash
for a head, and a body composed of grass thatch, palm
leaves, fowl's feathers, and achatinae shells. These
people must deem lightly of an evil influence that can
mistake, even in the dark, such a scarecrow for a human
being. Near almost every door stands the Legba-'gban,
or Legba-pot, by Europeans called the " Devil's Dish. 2 "
It is a common clay shard article, either whole or broken,
and every morning and evening it is filled, generally by
women, with cooked maize and palm-oil, for the benefit
of the turkey-buzzard (Percnopter niger), like the Pinda
offered to Hindu crows. " Akrasu, 8 " the vulture, is next
1 Vodun is Fetish in general. I hardly know whether to write it
Vodun or Fodun, the sound of the two labials is so similar. New
comers are apt to confound this Fetish with the Azan or fringe of
dried palm-leaf, which, fastened about a tree, places it under the
protection of the Bo-Fetish. When a man wears the latter round
his throat, witchcraft can do him no harm; and, if a war captive, he
may not be killed.
2 The food which it contains is called Legba-nun-dudu, or
"eating for Legba."
3 There are two kinds, Akrasu, the common Percnopter niger, and
a larger grey species, with a very hooked beak, called by the people
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 51
to the snake, the happiest animal in Dahome. He has
always an abundance of food, like storks, robins, swallows,
crows, adjutant cranes, and other holy birds in different
parts of the wprld. He may not be killed with impunity,
and he rarely loses his life except on the most solemn
occasions. The knowledge of his safety renders him so
tame that he will refresh himself among the poultry ; and
gorged with daily banquets, the " beast of a bird " will
hardly deign to take wing before being trodden upon ; I
have seen him eating amongst the crowd before the
King's tent, and half ready to show fight if interrupted.
When hungry, he seems always to consider you as if you
were butcher's meat.
Travellers abuse this "obscene fowl," forgetting that
without it the towns of Yoruba would be uninhabitable.
Moreover, except after a meal of carrion, it has by no
means the " foul aspect " which Commander Forbes
ascribes to it, nor is its " familiarity " at all " sickening."
The fact is, that officer saw human sacrifice everywhere,
although the rite never takes place at Whydah^the con-
demned being sent up to the capital for execution,^ The
turkey-buzzard perched on the topmost stick of a blasted
calabash tree, is to unromantic material Africa what the
pea-fowl, weather-cocking the tall Mawri is to more
engaging Asia. It always struck me as the most appro-
priate emblem and heraldic bearing for decayed Dahome.
The new comer must not confound the " Vulture's
dish" with another display of earthenware. Places are
consecrated by planting dwarf flags round a forked stick,
or round a tree cut down to a reversed tripod, which sup-
ports a red clay pot or pot cover. Upon this the passers-by
deposit a little food or palm-oil, and sometimes cabalistic
messes, to bring luck or to ward off danger.
Legba himself is a horrid spectacle. A mass of red
clay is roughly moulded by the clumsy, barbarous artist
into an imitation man, who is evidently like Jupiter,
A devil of a god for following the girls.
52 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The figure is at squat, crouched, as it were, before its
own attributes, with arms longer than a gorilla's, huge
feet, and no legs to speak of. The head is of mud or
wood, rising conically to an almost pointed poll ; a dab of
clay represents the nose ; the mouth is a gash from ear
to ear, and the eyes and teeth are of cowries, or painted
ghastly white. This deity almost fills a temple of dwarf
thatch, open at the sides. In nine cases out of ten he has
returned, human-like, to an undistinguishable heap of
dust, but it would be sacrilege to remove the sacred
rubbish. Legba is of either sex, but rarely feminine.
Of the latter I have seen a few, which are even more
horrid than the male ; the breasts project like the halves
of a German sausage, and the rest is to match. In this
point Legba differs from the classical Pan and the
Lampsacan god, 1 but the idea involved is the same. The
Dahoman, like almost all semi-barbarians, considers a
numerous family the highest blessing, and fatherlessness
the greatest curse in mundane life, and what men think in
these lands must be minded by women. The peculiar
worship of Legba consists of propitiating his or her
characteristics by unctions of palm-oil. The " Anatinkpo,"
or knotted clubs planted around the figure with their
knobs in the air, are possibly derived from Oshe, the
weapon of the Egba "Shango. 2 "
Issuing from the bazar to westward, we pass on the
right a large ruinous tenement, built by a quadroon mer-
chant, Mr. Hutton, of Cape Coast Castle, whose " Gothic
House" there has just been converted into Government
quarters. After he was drowned on the Dago bar (1857),
this place was sold to a Spaniard, known only as D. Juan,
1 How strong a superstition this worship is, may be gathered
from the annals of the monotheistic Jews, amongst whom Maacah,
the queen-mother of Asa, set up the "horror" in a grove.
2 There is also a great demon in Egba land, who uses a knob-
stick, called Oggo, and who therefore is known as Agongo-Oggo.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 53
who presently perished, of course by poison, at Badagry.
As the last proprietor owed 200 dollars to the king, it
then became royal demesne.
We are now at the English factory, which will require
description ; it has played a conspicuous part in local poli-
tics, and it may perchance do so again. Williams Fort,
as it is called in old writings, was built for the Royal
African Company of England, by Captain Wiburne,
brother to Sir John Wiburne ; its foundation is, therefore,
nearly two centuries old. In Barbot's 1 day (1700) it was
100 yards square, with four large earthen flankers, mount-
ing twenty-one good guns ; the trench, crossed by a draw-
bridge of boards spread on beams, was 20 ft. deep by i8ft.
wide, and its establishment consisted of twenty whites and
one hundred gromettos, or slaves, attached to English
Town, under the orders of a governor. The old traveller
places it three miles from the water-side, between the
Danish fort (now quite forgotten) on the west, and within
half-a-mile of the French and Dutch Forts. In its day it
has sheltered, under Governor Tinker, the King of Why-
dah, when Savi, his capital, was taken by Dahome ;
Governor Wilson gave protection to Ossue, the leader of
the Whydahs and Popos ; rash Governor Tetesole was,
by orders of the Great King, murdered, and some say
eaten ; Governor Gregory defended it against Tanga, the
rebel ; brave Governor Goodson, by the fire of his fort
won back Whydah for Dahome ; Governor Abson here
lived thirty-seven years, and left behind him Sally, of
tragical end ; stout Mr. Hamilton procured the release of
Dr. M'Leod, and Governor James, the younger of that
name, who succeeded the two former, is still known as the
The shape of the enceinte is a square or parallelo-
i A Description of the Coasts of North and South Guinea. By
John Barbot, Agent-General of the Royal African Company and
Islands of America, at Paris. This old book is a mine of information.
54 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahonie.
gram, enclosing several acres, surrounded by a well-grown
moat, and formerly defended at the angles by once round
bastions, with their rusty guns, a total of twenty-four car-
ronades still lying there and about the court. Even in
1803, we are told that only three or four of the cannon
were sound enough to be used in saluting, the others
being so honeycombed and corroded that those firing them
would have been in more danger than those fired at. The
compound is divided into unequal parts by a wall running
from east to west ; to the north where a garden should
be, there is a foul Fetish figure throned amidst a mass of
filth, yet the people wonder that they suffer from small-
pox and measles ! The main building, fronting south, to
catch the sea-breeze, is a huge half-whitewashed barn,
red and crumbling below, with a ragged, tattered pent-
roof thatch above ; the walls pierced with irregular shut-
tered holes, are 4ft. thick, and the "great hall 1 " and
five dwarf rooms inside suggest comparison with the
ab externo size of the edifice. The interior is as shabby as
the exterior, the floors yawn wide, and the ceiling threatens
to fall. As usual in these buildings, there is but one
entrance, a gloomy and cavernous gateway, like the Arab's
" barzah," under the main building. The barton between
the house and Fetish-ground contains out-houses and
offices for servants and followers ; a well, which at times
fails ; instead of "steeple house " a shingled chapel, which
is also school-room ; a " cook-house " (not a kitchen) ; a
bathing-place, bachelor's quarters, four rows of umbrella
trees, under whose shade is the usual trellised arbour, and
the old " Hog-yard," which name, however, is now for-
The Hog-yard is a square detached house in the
centre of the enceinte, near the old circular powder-maga-
zine ; it derives its peculiar appellation from the fact that
i It was the mess-room of the governor and his officers, with
whatever strangers might be staying in the place.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 55
white men were buried here. The founder of the fort,
Captain Wiburne, was the first tenant, and it has been
since used as a family vault for the servants of the " Com-
pany." Captain Thomas Phillips tells us a characteristic
tale of this institution. A Mr. Smith, the chief factor,
being sick, one of the kings of Whydah insisted upon send-
ing a Fetish priest to his relief. The reverend man, car-
rying brandy, rum, rice, oil, and other creature comforts,
entered the Hog-yard, and thus addressed the deaf and
dumb inmates :
" O ye dead whites that live here ! you have a mind
to have with you this factor that is sick, but he is a friend
to the King, who loves him, and who will not part with
him as yet ! "
Then, repairing to Captain Wiburne's grave, he cried
" O thou captain of all the dead whites that lie here !
this is thy doing : thou wouldst have this man from us to
bear thee company, because he is a good man, but our
King will not part with him, and thou shalt not have him
yet ! "
Thus saying, the holy man made a hole over the
grave, and poured in the various articles which he had
brought with him, telling the ghostly tenant that if he
wanted those things, they were all there for him, but the
factor he must not expect and should not have.
The historian goes on to say that the Englishmen
present, disgusted by this mummery, kicked the Fetisheer
out of the fort, and that Mr. Smith incontinently died, a
proof stronger than any Holy Writ to the negro mind that
black man's " medicine he be good."
In the Hog-yard also reposes Mr. James, called by
the natives " Huze-huze." In December and January,
when the Whydah Fetish fetes take place, the native
priests flock with drums to perform idolatrous rites at his
56 A Mission to Gelek, King of Dahome.
I summoned the Caboceers, and protested against
these proceedings in the capital of English Town. 1 They
of course promised to report my objections to the King,
and certainly thought no more about the matter. The
English Fort at Whydah is a scandal, morally and physi-
cally. Compared with the French Mission, it gives
exactly the measure of difference between the white man
and the mulatto, even in these lands, where climate is so
much against the former. The Wesleyan Mission should
be ashamed of it. A few hundred pounds would make the
place respectable, by the expulsion of the Fetish, and by
the restoration of a building which has now passed out of
government's hands. The sound of psalmody is certainly
not wanting, indeed, the "holloaing of anthems," as Fal-
staff calls it, is satis supevque ; and besides the school-chil-
dren, there are nearly a score of he-fellows schoolmaster,
cook, barber, tailor, interpreter, and others loafing and
lounging about the court and arbour. They should be
made at least to work their cost in salt. I only hope that
an English Company will, at some not distant day, take
the restoration in hand.
In 1842-43, the Wesleyan Mission was nominally
established at Whydah by Mr. T. B. Freeman, the
"Bishop of the Gold Coast," and Mr. Dawson, the com-
panion of his travels. Eleven years afterwards they were
followed by the Reverend Mr. Bernasko,the present princi-
pal and the sole occupant of the English Fort, accompanied
by a Mr. Laing, now doing duty at Annamaboe. They
began by a melange of commerce and conversion, which was
far from being favourably received by King Gezo. Perhaps
for that reason they have been taken en amitie by his royal
son. Gelele has given over to them six youths, sons of
i English Town is one of the most populous parts of Whydah,
and lies behind its fort. Like the other quarters, it is chiefly in-
habited by the descendants of fort slaves, and they are bound to
do corvee for English visitors. They speak a little of our language,
and they muster perhaps 300 families.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 57
the old fort slaves of the English Town ; he will not, how-
ever, allow the number to be increased. The total of the
congregation is a dozen men, mostly Fantis, and all
coloured. The school-muster greatly varies : for when I
was last there, it numbered forty-six pupils, of whom
twenty-three were boarders, including the human presents
given according to custom by the King to his various
visitors at Agbome. Amongst others under the charge of
Mrs. Bernasko, is " Jane," popularly called the Commo-
dore's Wife, a huge porpoise, a female Daniel Lambert,
and a fair match for three men. There also are the two
girls, " one about twelve, the other sixteen, very pretty
and intelligent, 1 " dashed at Agbome to Captain Wilmot
for education in England. Tastes in the matter of beanty
differ. I found " Amelia," the younger, aged at least
sixteen, and an uncommonly plain and dingy specimen ;
whilst " Emma," the elder, had passed eighteen, and
wore an expression of intense stupidity, combined with
the external development of a female " Legba." They
are thus too old to learn, and in these days it is not so
easy as it was to become African "princesses." Finally,
neither of them can be termed Dahoman, the former is
an Ishaggan, and the latter is a Makhi captive.
For the English name in these parts, I am sorry to
see Mr. Bernasko so situated. He has small pay, a large
family, and many calls upon his purse. But it draws
down contempt upon a faith when its teachers are com-
pelled to trade for their livelihood, and to keep within a
few yards of their chapel a shop in which cloth and
pottery, rum and ammunition, are sold.
Passing out of the English Fort, we see in front and
on the offside of " Main Street," two brick pillars inclined
i See Appendix iii., Despatches from Commodore Wilmot,
respecting his visit to the King of Dahomy, in December, 1862, and
January, 1863. Presented to the House of Commons by command
of Her Majesty, in pursuance of their address, June 16, 1863.
58 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
like the leaning towers of Bologna, and showing where
once was the factory garden. Here grew the orange-
grove alluded to by Dr. M'Leod, and the thin tamarind
under which Governor Abson was buried. It has long
been abandoned to the weeds, and a dozen sheep and goats
now pick a scanty meal. On the right hand and to the
south-west of William's Fort, is a large ruined establish-
ment that belonged to Ignacio de Souza, a son of the
original Chacha. He fell into disgrace four to five years
ago, under the suspicion of having reported to a British
cruiser the intended departure of a slaver, and he
mysteriously disappeared. His property was "broken"
by the " Don-pwe people 1 " here, a sign of complete and
irretrievable ruin. It is a custom borrowed from the old
kings of Whydah. The house has lately been granted by
the King to a Mr. Craft, a mulatto, not a negro, as his
semi-scientific auditors at Newcastle firmly believe him to
be. The repairs will cost about 600, but this agent to
the new " Company of African Merchants" says that he
will easily make it pay. Pew veremos !
Bending towards the north of the English Fort, we pass
through a large empty space now being cleared of grass
for the Christmas "play." It shows a big tree-grown
hole whose earth has been excavated for building, and a
central shed erected by the present King for his " Blue"
guards to marshal, dance, drink, and settle the palavers
peculiar to their corps. The "Blues" outside the palace,
also called " English Company," correspond with the
"Fanti company" of women inside: they are held to be
body-guards, but they are not regulars. For this reason
i Don (young), and pwe (small or young, as in Pwe-vi). These
are a troop of petits jeunes hommes, who must do something to dis-
tinguish themselves, organized by the King for his especial service,
and to counteract the lazy and crafty veterans. These moutards are
under a head-man, and each great Caboceer has at least one Don-
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 59
it is called, after one of the royal houses at the capital,
Beyond this square is a dark circular clump of giant
trees, splendid figs, calabashes, and bombaxes rising
from a dense bush which doubtless has witnessed many a
deed of darkness. One would suppose that they were
fetished to preserve them ; but the Tree and the Ocean,
as well as the Snake, formed of old the peculiar cultus of
Whydah. At its eastern end is the second lion of the
town, and a very minute one, the Danhhwe, 1 _or Boa
Temple. It is nothing but a small cylindrical mud hut
some Fetish houses are square with thick clay walls sup-
porting a flying thatch roof in extinguisher shape. Two
low narrow doorless entrances front each other, leading
to a raised floor of tamped earth, upon which there is
nothing but a broom and a basket. It is roughly white-
washed inside and out, and when I saw it last a very
lubberly fresco of a ship under full sail sprawled on the
left of the doorway. A little distance from the entrance
were three small pennons, red, white, and blue cottons
tied to the top of tall poles.
The Danhgbwe is here worshipped, like the monkey
near Accra and Wuru, the leopard of Agbome, the
iguana of Bonny, and the crocodile at Savi, Porto Seguro,
and Badagry. The reptile is a brown yellow-and-white-
streaked python of moderate dimensions ; and none
appears to exceed five feet. The narrow neck and head
tapering like the slow-worm's, show it to be harmless ; the
i Or Danhgbwe-hwe, or Vodun-hwe, i.e., Fetish House par excel-
lence. In all these words the n is highly nasal. A common snake is
called Danh; the python, Danhgbwe, a purely Whydah word, which
must not be confounded with Dagbwe, " good." Dr. M'Leod corrupts
the word to Daboa. 'Gbwe means a bush, but according to my in-
terpreters it is no component part of Danhgbwe. Hwe signifies, I
have said, a house and grounds, in fact the whole establishment, as
distinguished from Ho, a room (as in Za-ho, a ceiling'd or store-
60 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
negro indeed says that its bite is good as a defence against
the venomous species, and it is tame with constant
handling. M. Wallon saw 100 in the temple, some 10
feet long, and he tells his readers that they are never
known to bite, whereas they use their sharp teeth like
rats. Of these "nice gods" I counted seven, including
one which was casting its slough ; all were reposing upon
the thickness of the clay wall where it met the inner
thatch. They often wander at night, and whilst I was
sketching the place a negro brought an estray in his arms:
before raising it, he rubbed his right hand on the ground
and duly dusted his forehead, as if grovelling before the
king. The ugly brute coiled harmlessly round his neck,
like a " doctored " cobra in India or Algeria. Other
snakes may be killed and carried dead through the town,
but strangers who meddle with the Danhgbwe must look
out for " palavers," which, however, will probably now
resolve themselves into a fine. In olden times death
has been the consequence of killing one of these reptiles,
and if the snake be abused, "serious people" still stop
their ears and run away.
When under former reigns a native killed a
Danhgbwe even accidentally, he was put to death ; now,
the murderer is placed somewhat like the Salamanders
of old Vauxhall, in a hole under a hut of dry faggots
thatched with grass which has been well greased with
palm-oil. This is fired, and he must rush to the nearest
running water, mercilessly belaboured with sticks and
pelted with clods the whole way by the Danhgbwe-no, 1 or
fetish-priests. Many of course die under the gauntlet.
Thus there is a bapteme de feu as well as a bapteme d'eau ; fire
and water, to say nothing of the gauntlet, must combine
i No, at the end of a compound word, means primarily mother
(e.g., Danhgbwe-no, snake-mother): tropically, master of, or in the
Arabic sense, father of (e.g., Abu Hanash, father of snake). Its
general use shows the superior dignity of the lower sex in Dahome.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 61
to efface the god-killing crime. 1 The elder de Souza saved
many a victim by stationing a number of his slaves round
the deicide, with orders to hustle and beat him in
semblance not in reality. This was truly the act of a
" Good Samaritan."
Ophiolatry in our part of Africa is mostly confined to
the coast regions ; the Popos and Windward races
worship a black snake of larger size ; and in the Bight of
Biafra the Nimbi or Brass River people 2 are as bigoted in
boa-religion as are the Whydahs. The system is of old
date : Bosnian, at the beginning of the last century,
described it almost as it is at present. It well suits the
gross materialism of these races, and yet here men ought
to be tired of it. As will afterwards appear, the snakes
lost their kingdom ; yet we are told that when the
Dahomans permitted serpent-worship to continue, the
Whydahs, abundantly thankful, became almost recon-
ciled to the new stern rule.
Snake worship is both old and widely spread 3 ; we
recognise it among the Psylli of the ancients, and in the
Roman Ophiolatreia of which Livy wrote angtiem in quo
ipsum numcn fuisse constabat. In the Christian Church the
animal was adored by the Ophites, perhaps on the same
principle that the Sheytan Parast propitiates H.S.M.,
i Mr. Duncan witnessed this " absurd and savage custom," and
detailed it in vol. i. p. 195.
2 There the python has exceeded, I am told, nineteen feet in
length. Dr. M'Leod says that in Dahome many have been found
from thirty to thirty-six feet long, and of proportional girth, but he
does not say that he saw them.
3 Man's natural sense of personal fear probably originated the
many fanciful ideas concerning the saevissima vipera : it is truly
said, Timor fecit decs. The surpassing subtlety of the brute, the
female supposed to devour the male, and the young their parent, with
the monstrous imaginative offshoots dragons.fiery snakes, the great
sea-serpent, all such romantic zoology seems to have originated
from one and the same source.
62 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
or that certain ignorant Roman Catholics have burned
the candle at both ends in honour of the Powers of Light
and Darkness. The Ophites were thus opposed to the
orthodox, who held the unfortunate animal to be the
"fatal destroyer of the human race," the "type of the
devil and deluder of mankind." Barbot quotes upon this
subject the Golden Serpent of the first Israelites, the
Brazen Snake of Moses, the Dragon of Babylon, and the
Thermutis or Asp of Egypt, where it was accounted one
of the most valuable symbols of religion. Erasmus
Stella informs us, in his Antiquities of Borussia, that
people began worship by ophiolatry. Sigismund, baron
of Huberstein, in his account of Moscovy, says, " that
snakes were adored in Samogitia and Lithuania." The
Naga of India was the Couch of Vishnu and the type
of eternity ; it is still revered by the snake-charmer. 1
Herodotus (ii. 74) mentions the sacred serpent at Thebes.
The Romans during a plague brought ^Esculapius, son of
Apollo, from Epidaurus, in the form of a huge serpent,
and with great sacrifices and ceremonies lodged him in
an island of the Tiber. Finally, I may observe that from
the Slave-Coast " Vodun " or Fetish we may derive the
" Vaudoux" or small green snake of the Haytian negroes,
so well-known by the abominable orgies enacted before
the " Vaudoux King and Queen, 2 " and the "King Snake"
is still revered at S'a Leone.
On the other side of the road the devotees of the
snake are generally lolling upon the tree roots in pre-
tended apathy, but carefully watching over their gods.
Here too are the Fetish schools, where any child touched
1 In bygone days at Baroda of Guzerat I studied snake-charming
under a native professor, when some of my brother-officers after
filling the house with the hugest ranae, to testify their abhorrence
of frog-eaters killed in waggishness a fine cobra. The terrified
Hindu would never again " darken " those doors.
2 The orgies are derived from the old Fetish practices, which
may be found in Bosnian and Barbot.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 63
by the holy reptile must be taken for a year from its
parents who "pay the piper" and must be taught the
various arts of singing and dancing necessary to the wor-
ship. This part of the system has, however, lost much of
the excesses that prevailed in the last century, when, at
the pleasure of the strong-backed Fetish men, even the
King's daughters were not excused from incarceration and
from its presumable object. The temple is still annually
visited by the Viceroy, during the interval after the Cus-
toms and before the campaigning season. He takes one
bullock, with goats, fowls, cloth, rum, meal, and water to
the priest, who, holding a bit of kola nut, prays aloud for
the King, the country, and the crops.
Close to the Boa Temple is the palace of the Yevo-
gan, 1 or Viceroy of Whydah. This is an important post,
and the holders the third dignitary of the kingdom^ He
is proposed by the Meu, or second minister, his after
i It is an old Whydah title dating before the conquest. In the
old days, the " Coke " was the head Caboceer in the absence of the
Yevogan (Dr. M'Leod, p. 68). I cannot find the title now. The
word is spelt with a complexity of error. The History gives Yav-
oughah ; Mr. Duncan, Avogaw and Avoga ; Captain Wilmot, Yav-
ogah ; and others Yavogar, showing how easily the H, the R, and
the highly nasal N, may be confounded by unpractised ears. The
French prefer Jevoghan. Commander Forbes, who realized the fact
that Ffon is a monosyllabic tongue, but who did not take the trouble
to ascertain the only important part of his discovery, namely, what
the syllables are, produced the curious etymology Ee-a-boo-gan.
The word is Yevo-gan, " i^hite man's captain," Whydah being
held to be a white man's town. Yevo means a white man, the oibo
or oyibo of the Egbas. Ye is a shadow, and vo signifies ripe or red.
Can has been explained as a captain or chief, and must not be con-
founded with gan, metal. Again, Commander Forbes and M.
Wai Ion tell us that the P. N. of the Yevogan is Dagbah, Dagbwa,
and Dagba. The phrase Da-gba implies " he holds a large gourd or
calabash " Whydah being, as it were, the king's cornucopia it was
a title which the present man took for himself. Mr. Duncan (vol. i.
p. 117) erroneously explains the word to signify that the King would
drink water with him the strongest mark of friendship.
64 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
patron, and he is installed by the King, under whose
indirect protection he is. The ^icejcoy is surrounded by
the clevereit-spies and councillors ; on his own ground he
is strong, but once in the capital he falls into the hands of
his protector. He is ever liable to be summoned to
Agbome, and etiquette compels him to ride a wretched
garron, upon which he is supported by his slayes. His
soldiers may amount, not to 2000, as some say, but to 200.
He is at once council, jury, and judge ; he cannot, how-
ever, put a Dahoman to death even for crime without
sending him for examination to the KingX He has un-
imited powers of imprisonment and bastinado ; indeed,
the local system seems to be that which kept the old
British man-of-war in such grand discipline ; all are in
ranks, and the superior "sticks" every one below him.
He is great at embezzlement, and woe betide the litigious
wight whose cause falls into his hands. Both he and his
lieutenant must be propitiated before he will forward a
visitor's message to the King ; and both, though they can
do little to assist, are powerful in impeding progress. 1
However, a piece of silk, and a few bottles of French
" 'tafia," suffice for each, and both vouchsafed a return
in provisions. I reserve a personal description of the
Yevo-gan till we meet him at Kana.
The Yevo-gan's palace is a large enceinte to the
north of the town, with four principal entrances. That
on the north-east is the " Bwendemen. 2 " It opens upon
a square or space full of Fetish huts, one of which covers
the skull of the African wild buffalo, now extinct in these
parts, and under the straggling trees deputations are re-
ceived. To the north is " Ganhori " ; the western en-
1 The present sub- viceroy, being a cousin and a particular friend
of the King, has unusual powers of persuasion ; but such is by no
means always the case. The " Prince," of whom more hereafter, is
considered a firm friend to the English nation.
2 The first gate made when building the house is always so
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 65
trance is known as " Ohongaji " ; and the southern, lead-
ing to the Snake House, is " Agoli." The interior is the
normal labyrinth of courts and tents, each with two door-
ways ; you reach the audience chamber after some twenty
turnings, though perhaps it was a few yards from the
entrance passage, and it is concealed, like the owner's
" wifery," by mud walls. The great man, after the usual
formality of canes and compliments, causes visitors, if
they allow it, to fare anticamera, till his toilet is satisfactory,
in a palm-nut paved outhouse near his pony's stable.
Dignity makes this demand ; the negro grandee must not
appear curious or anxious to see his visitor, who will
ensure a better reception next time by making the loudest
demonstrations of indignation. The dignitary receives in
a small clean verandah, where, as chairs may not be used
by the lieges of Dahome, he is found reclining upon the
uncarpeted floor. He escorts the visitor beyond his walls,
and he never fails to beg that a decent horse may be sent
out to him from Europe, Asia, or the other quarters of the
" inhabited quarter."
Crossing Main Street from north to south, we proceed
to the south-west of the town, where stands the Brazilian
Fort, the residence of the de Souza family. The huge mud
pile occupies the base of a rude triangle, called a square,
under whose shady trees, in the mornings and evenings,
black cattle muster strong. Smaller tenements, in the
south of Europe style, have been added to both sides.
The old man, however, would not inhabit the house on
the proper right of the fort, from a superstitious fancy
that it would be fatal to him. The western turret or
gable of the huge central building, which faces south-
wards, may be seen from the sea, affording an excellent
mark to the aspiring gunner. The peculiar feature of the
Uhon-nukon, 1 or Praa, is a circular wattling, six feet in
i Uhon (gate), and Nukon (before), i.e., the space before the gate.
VOL. I. 5
66 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
diameter, planted round with the tall thunder-fetish shrub. 1
No one sees the interior, and even after fires that have
calcined the live hedge, it is carefully covered with leaves.
It is said to contain a round shot fired from the roads,
probably out of an old long carronade (32-pounder, 9 ft.
6 in. in length, and 56 cwt.), by Commander Hill, R.N.,
who, in 1844, succeeded Mr. Maclean as Governor of the
Gold Coast. The missile fell opposite the house of M.
Martinez, and was removed to this place, where it has
ever since been held fetish.
The founder of the family, M. Francisco Fellis de
Sousa or Souza, .left Rio Janeiro in 1810, not, as Com-
mander Forbes 2 says, a fugitive for political crime, nor
as Captain Canot 3 asserts, "a deserter from the arms of
his imperial master," but simply as a peasant who wished
to see the world. He first settled at a place which he
called Ajudo, 4 near Little Popo, and presently he became
1 By the natives it is called Ayyan or Soyyan ; held in the hand,
a leaf prevents the gun from bursting, and the sticks are used in
thunder-worship, hence the name in the text. It is a tall shrub,
with broad ensiform leaves, like a Pandanus, but of a darker green,
and it grows all about the coast, extending as far as Agbome. Some-
times it is pollarded, and in this state it is set round other sacred
2 Vol. i. p. 196. Commander Forbes was also misinformed when
he states, " When Da (de) Souza died, a boy and a girl were decapi-
tated and buried with him, besides three men who were sacrificed
on the beach at Whydah (vol. i. p. 33). All denominations at Why-
dah deny this; nor is it probable after the deceased's life-long
opposition to this particular enormity.
3 Captain Canot ; or, Twenty Years of an African Slaver. En-
tertaining, but superficial ; the author manifestly does not know
that "Chacha" is a title, not a name.
4 There are some four " Ajudo " hereabouts, all so called by the
old De Souza, meaning " Decs me ajudo " God helped me. Some
wrongly write Ajido. Others prefer Ajuda, help, aid ; the full phrase
being " Com ajudade Deos" ; hence the Ajuda Palace, in Portugal.
From directions of letters, I believe Ajuda and Ayuda to be the
popular Portuguese and Brazilian names for Whydah.
IV. A Walk round Whydali. 67
Governor of the Portuguese Fort here. __
was raised to the Chachaship,J:he principal agency in
commercial matters between the King and all strangers; Y
he thus became captain of the merchants, and the second
dignitary at Whydah. As he could command refusal of
all articles offered for sale, and as he had the regulation of
the "De" alcavala, octroi, or excise he became very
wealthy. Hs was ever hospitable and generous to Mr.
Duncan 1 and to other Englishmen, although he owed to us
the loss of a score of ships. He won the esteem of honest
men, despite his slave-trading propensities, by discourag-
ing torture and death; whilst, unlike too many other
whites, he systematically refused to be present at human
sacrifice. When far advanced in life, he had the honour
to entertain the Prince de Joinville, and he died in May,
On the elder De Souza's demise, the Chachaship was
contested by three of his one hundred children. Isidore,
the King's favourite, succeeded ; but, like all the juniors
and African born of the family, he departed life young.
Followed Antonio, commonly called Kwaku, or Wednes-
day,* a debauched man, rich, prodigal, and bigoted; he
had thousands of armed and trained slaves ; he built a
swish-house with rum instead of water, wishing to imitate
the King, who for such purpose uses blood ; and he
threatened to compel Gezo perforce to become a Christian.
His career was short, and he was succeeded by his
i " A more generous or benevolent man perhaps never existed."
says that traveller vol. i. p. 194. See also vol. ii. p. 295).
U So called from the clay of his birth, a Gold Coast custom. The
word is here corrupted to Coco. Kwabna (Tuesday) and Wednes-
day are "strong days" of birth; children that appear on Fridays,
Saturdays, and Mondays are " weak as water." Mr. Duncan (vol. i.
p. 193) remarks, "On no account will a native sleep with his head
towards the sea, nor enter a new house to take possession as a
dwelling on a Tuesday or Friday, both those days being reckoned
A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
uterine brother, 1 Ignacio, whose mysterious fate has been
mentioned. The present Chacha, popularly called S'or
Chico, is " Francisco," also a son of the old De Souza,
aged about forty, tinted between a mulatto and a quad-
roon, with features European in the upper half, and
African below, a scant beard, and a not unpleasant ex-
pression of countenance. He has little power, and thus
the whole authority of the place has been centered, much
to the detriment of commerce, in the hands of the wicked
The family is charged with exercising a pernicious
influence over the minds of the King and of the people of
Dahome. It is still numerous. 2 The daughters of the
i The mother was a large woman from Agwe, dashed to the old
Chacha. Her name was Akho-'si, i.e., King's wife, but she had no
connection with royalty.
2. The following is a list of the present heads of the De Souza
family, all being " Hijos de Whydah" : -
1. Francisco Fellis de Souza.
The names of the sisters who are at all distinguished are :
1. Maria Amalia Fellis de Souza.
2. Sabina ,, ,,
3. Francisca ,, ,,
4. Antonia ,,
There are many young children ; about a hundred are known. The
only grandson of any importance is Antonio Francisco de Souza, son
of " Kwaku," and aged about twenty-eight. The late Isidore left two
boys, Leandro Sancho and Sicinio Agripo, and two girls, Maria das
Doses and Joanna Isidora, who are looked upon as Africans.
vulgarly called Pito.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 6<j
house being too high to marry, temporarily honour the
man who has the fortune to please them, and are said to
reproduce in the Brazilian factory the state of morals that
prevailed in the palaces of the old Persian kings and the
Incas of Peru.
Passing up the Ajudo Akhi 'men, or Adjudo Market,
by which we entered the town, we turn to the north-west,
and once more pass into Main Street. Here we find the
third bazar, Zo mai 'khi men, " Curfew Market. 1 " It
was so called by the old Chacha, who would not allow the
grass to be burned hereabouts, having a large store of
gunpowder in Zomai House, a big swish building, now in
ruins. There is nothing remarkable in this market.
Bending northwards, we find the French Fort, as
usual in these days, at least the finest building in the
place, with all the military air proper to the Grande
Nation : it is, indeed, the only tenement that does not
cry for repair. Still, it is a peaceful establishment, be-
longing to M. Regis (Aine), of Marseille, the well-known
emigrationist now reduced to palm-oil. It occupies the
site of the old French Fort, whose governor, in the days
of Louis XVI., had such influence over the country, and
which in its career was twice destroyed by the Dahomans,
whilst several governors lost their lives. Barbot 2 gives a
detailed history of its original foundation in 1669-1671,
by MM. Du Bourg and Caralof, with the consent of the
King of Whydah, for the French West Indian Company.
The old traveller places the factory at " Pilleau or
Pelleau " names now unknown " a little beyond the
swamp, and two miles from the sea." It is badly
situated ; the air hereabouts is malarious, and hotter
i Zo (fire), Ma (not), I (come), 'Khi (from akhi, market), Men
^ Book 4, chap. i. Where also may be found a long account of
the squabbles of the two founders, and of the disputes with their
seniors, the Dutch Company.
jo A Mission -to Gelele, King of Dahome.
than at the other three forts. Behind, or northwards, is
Salam Fran9ais, or French Town, peopled, like the rest,
by the descendants of the Fort grumettos. They are
now reduced from 1500 to a very small number, and
they are considered a treacherous runaway race, the worst
hammock-bearers at Whydah. 1
A marble tablet over the drawbridged gateway of the
French Fort informs us that it was restored by M. Regis,
in 1842, and it is said that the repairs cost as much as
though it had been re-made with stone. The main building
fronting the sea southwards is tiled, not thatched, a neces-
sary precaution, as will be seen, against the fires here
frequent, and it has a tall central belvedere. The two
bastions to the north-east and south-west have been
whitewashed and repaired ; the former, being nearer the
town, mounts six guns, not including four fixed in the
swish ; and the latter had a telegraph for signalling to
the ships in the roads. Besides which, a battery without
affuts lies on the ground opposite the entrance. The ditch
is uncleaned and efficient, whilst the three remaining
walls of the enceinte are of coarse red clay, and by no
means in good order, suggesting the idea of a " dicky,"
which is also characteristic. The immense compound
contains a well, a cooperage, a smithy, a trellised arbour,
and other necessaries. Outside the gateway it was pro-
posed to found an establishment for the French mis-
sioners, who sensibly went eastwards, and found a site
one to three degrees (F.) cooler. Here one of the agents
attempted to plant cotton, and necessarily failed for want
of regular labour.
i The French factory is composed as follows :
1. M. Marius Daumas, agent en chef of the factories of M. Regis,
since 1863 French Consul for Whydah and Porto Novo (where
he mostly resides), and chief of the Whydah factory.
2. M. Beraud.
3. M. Ardisson.
4. M. Pellegrin.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 71
It is not unamusing to compare with fact M.
Wallon's account of this factory. Its disinterestedness
in supplying rival barraconnicrs with Zanzibar cowries, its
high sense of honour, provoking the hostility of the
Yevo-gan, and its grand prospects as a civilizing and
Christianizing agent, are dreams not of the wise. The
connection of France with Whydah has not been, and is
not, a credit to our rivals ; nor is he their friend who tells
them the contrary. The Maison Regis is a barracoon,
a slave-yard, where, with detestable hypocrisy, " emi-
grants 1 " and "free labourers" were lodged in jail 11
they could be transported a loisir. Such is the estab-
lishment which a French naval officer pretends to praise.
But M. Wallon himself, when in the " Dialmat," had
proceeded to the capital in order to procure 40,000 hands.
If the house has become a centre of licit commerce, it
has not to thank its proprietor, his agents, or the officers
that aided and abetted him. Finally, after the death of
King Gezo, who mightily affected Frenchmen, it has
fallen into utter contempt ; the present ruler treats its
gerant en chef as a servant. M. Daumas, although calling
himself French consul, was, after his last visit to Kana,
in 1863, ordered not to quit Whydah, and he was com-
pelled to fly on board a French man-of-war.
We now resume our route westwards, passing sundry
fine houses, especially those of M. Nobre, a friend of
Gezo, who during the same year followed his royal patron
to the dark world, and of M. J. C. Muniz, whose African
son has just come into possession of his property. Issuing
from the habitations, we visit the westernmost point of
Whydah Town, the Zo Mai 'Khimen Kpota, or " Fire
Come not in Market Hillock. 2 " It is a swell in the open
1 Most people know that with the profession, "emigrant," like
"captive," means a purchased slave.
2 Kpota means a gentle rise of ground, opposed to So, a hill,
and to So daho (literally big hill), a mountain.
72 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
ground, which commands a full view of the shipping.
Here we may see the coffee-like shrub which produces
the fruit known on the Gold Coast as the " miraculous
berry. 1 " A little to the N.W. are two huge cotton trees;
that nearer the town is called Foli Hun, or Foil's Bom-
bax, with the following legend attached to it.
The Whydahs, assisted by the Popos, had made
many a stout-hearted but vain attempt to recover their
city, especially under their brave leader Shampo, a refugee
Dahoman. This general, growing old, was succeeded in
the command by his son Foli or Fori (the " Affurey " of
the History), and, in 1763, when Tegbwesun (Bossa
Ahadi) was on the throne, the fugitives once more
attacked his garrison.
At first the Whydahs were successful ; they marched
in without opposition: and when old "Honnou, 1 " the
viceroy, attempted to defend his town, they wounded him
and repulsed his troops. " Baddely," the second in com-
mand, fought bravely, till, pressed by a superior force,
he was compelled to shelter himself under the guns of
1 The Fantis call it Sabla or Sambala (which the Preface to the
History, p. viii., and Introduction, p. 5, turn into Assabah, and opine
to be an oxyglycus) and the Ffon terms it Sisnah. It is the Ossess-
ossa of the Bonny R., and grows everywhere on the Gold Coast and
in the Bights. The fruit is a brab-like berry, cherry-red and yellow,
with a thin white pulp and a large black stone. It is hardly capable
of making "a lime taste like a very ripe china orange, or vinegar
like sweet wine" (loc. cit.), but it sweetens water with a cloying
taste, and remains long upon the palate. Perhaps it might be useful
in sugar-making. Dr. M'Leod exaggerates still further its peculiar-
ities : " Whoever eats this berry in the morning, must be content,
at least for that day, to forego the natural flavour of very kind of
food, whether animal or vegetable " (pp. 21-22).
2 These names are from the History, which ignores the Governor's
"wife," merely saying that Mr. Goodson had prepared to give the
rebels a very warm reception, and had fired into them accordingly.
On the other hand, King Gezo has often told the tradition as above
narrated. The " wife" might have been, and ten to one was, some
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 73
the French Fort, and the latter, although the enemy had
begun to burn down the suburbs, ungratefully politic,
fired nothing but blank cartridge to defend their friends.
The Whydahs and Popos, inspirited by this treach-
erous proceeding, advanced through the town; after
another action to the S.E. of, and just outside, the suburbs,
where the Godome entrance now is, they drove the enemy
into the bush. When passing the English factory, one
of the savage soldiery espied a white woman, Governor
Goodson's "wife," combing her long hair, and protruding
her head from the window, to see, I suppose, the "fun."
Exclaiming, " What animal can that be ? " the man pierced
her throat with a musket-ball; upon which the English-
man let fly a storm of grape-shot and musket-bullets,
which made a prodigious havoc amongst the friendly
Whydahs. The Portuguese Fort, suspecting some treach-
ery, took up the fire, and all the others followed suit,
thus completing the discomfiture of the townspeople.
The Dahomans, who, under "Baddely," were lurking
near, and collecting their men from the plantations,
resumed the offensive with such fury, that they killed
thirty out of thirty-two hostile umbrellas, or general
officers. Foli, overwhelmed with grief and shame, sat
down under that Bombax and shot himself. In memory
of his deeds, the fourth market-day at Whydah is called
This was the second occasion upon which the English
gave Wfiydah to the Dahomans. Tegbwesun acknow-
leged that his good son had the sole merit of the victory,
and the memory of "Ajangan" is still green in the land.
To the present day the King always remarks officially to
Englishmen who do not understand him, that from the
i Commander Forbes (vol. i. p. 114) says, "This was market-day
at the four-day market at Forree." The / in Foli is sounded some-
what like the peculiar Sanskrit (95 ).
74 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
first the British were the greatest friends of his family. 1
There is now no society in Whydah 2 ; the quondam
millionaires retain their hospitality, but not the means of
gratifying it. The old days of sporting, picnics, and
processions, of dancing, loving, drinking, and playing,
are gone, probably never to return. The place is tem-
porarily ruined, and dull as dull can be, except when the
occasional breaking of the blockade gives it a kind of
galvanic life. Such was the casein October, 1863; the
roads were stopped on the yth, and three days afterwards
a fine steamer, carrying 900 souls, got off between Go-
dome and Jackin. 3 All the principal venturers gave a
banquet, ending in a tripotage, which began at 4 P.M.,
and ended ten hours afterwards ; none but the members
of the Lyons Mission were exempted from attendance;
even the non-slaving traders and others were there drink-
ing pro-slavery toasts which would have given a philan-
All here is now in transition state. Slave exporting
is like gambling, a form of intense excitement which
becomes a passion ; it is said that after once shipping a
man, one must try to ship another. And the natives of
Whydah give the licit dealer scanty encouragement.
1 See in Commodore Wilmot's Despatch the usual garbled account
of this affair ; such as it is, however, people believed it in Whydah till
I collected the true details. Some, indeed, and they were not few, re-
ferred it to the first capture of Whydah by the Dahomans.
2 Dr. M'Leod (A Voyage to Africa), in 1803, considers Whydah
the "Circassia of Africa, not from the fairness, but from the glossy
blackness of the ladies' skins, and the docility of their dispositions."
Commander Forbes (1849) seems to have suffered from the " mere-
tricious gaze of the females," which he attributes to the " personal de-
pravity of the slave merchants." I saw no signs of this debauchery ;
the people were civil and respectful the one thing needful in the
3 According to some, in the preceding month a brig had cleared
from Grand Popo, carrying 300 head.
IV. A Walk round Whydah. 75
Having lived so long without severer toil than kidnap-
ping, they are too old to learn labour, they allow their
houses to fall, their plantations to re-become bush, their
streets to be half-grown with rank grass, and their
swamps to reek undrained.
Let us hope that a step in advance is now being
taken. Much might be expected from the soldier-like
discipline of Dahoman despotism, if compulsorily applied
to honest labour.
FROM WHYDAH TO ALLADA, THE HALF-WAY HOUSE.
COMM. RUXTON left Wtiydah December 10, and our
departure appeared imminent. Unfortunately, certain
Wen-san-gun, 1 or royal messengers, announced their ar-
rival ; they had walked from the capital in three days,
and though fire would not have made them own it, they
The King had despatched two of his Akho 'si, 2 or
eunuchs, and the senior, Mr. " De-adan-de," was a per-
1 The French have dubbed these officers Racadere, for what reason
I know not. The English of old times called them " Half-heads," from
their shaving off a moiety of their wool ; in those days they wore a
demi-dozen strings of human teeth over the shoulder to the knee.
Now few can display such decoration. Dr. M'Leod appropriately
termed them the mortal messengers, in contradistinction to the im-
mortals, sent, as will presently be explained, to the Shades.
2 Akho 'si properly means king's wife ; it is applied to the eunuchs,
who, as customary throughout Yoruba, form part of the royal estab-
lishment. Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 275) signally mistakes the meaning
of "king's wife." The operation is performed in the palace, at the
age of eighteen to twenty, by evulsion, others say by scission and ex-
traction, and the victims remain anorchides. Of course many die ; some-
times, it is said, five out of six. There is great difficulty in Dahome
about gaining information touching these matters ; the boldest speak
in whispers when a stranger begins to question concerning what takes
place "within." The names of our eunuch envoys were as follow :
De (here), adan (brave) ; De (here) means " He is valiant in Dahome."
Ya-mo-ji 'a is supposed to signify, " Cannot-get-such-a-son-to-be-
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 77
son of some dignity : had he been his master he could not
have displayed it more haughtily ; but when we saw
him at Agbome, his deportment became all servility. The
junior, Ya-mo-ji 'a, was remarkable only for the sable
blackness of his skin, and for a compound prognathism,
supernal and infernal, which, in the profile of his muz-
zle, suggested porcinity. These castrati spoke with manly
organs, probably because they had been neutered at a
late age ; moreover, in tropical latitudes, the painful
change called the breaking of the voice, is by no means
the infliction of which the temperate climates complain.
This par nobile of officials was accompanied by the
Kakopwe, 1 one of the King's head servants, sent " to the
outside " when great officers are to be summoned on
" King's palaver " to the capital. The next in rank was
fat So-kun, 2 the English guide, a nephew of the Men, or
second minister ; his "father," or patron, is the Buko-no,
the English "landlord." So-kun was duly provided with
Bu-ko, his spy, from the " landlord's" household, a sharp
and obliging lad, and this pair would keep the royal ser-
vants in check. As all caboceers hold their places ad
platitum regis, our bevy of officials, amounting to ten in
number, soon arranged about porters, hammock-men, and
similar small fry.
There is little to notice in the palaver which the mes-
sengers' arrival necessitated. We passed the usual com-
pliments, and we drank the normal toasts. De-adan-de,
before "giving King's word," produced his credentials, in
the shape of a "shark stick, 3 " a tomahawk about two
feet long, ending in a knob carved into a conventional
Squalus, a bit of iron like a broken axe-edge protruding
1 Kakopwe (in Forbes, Koao-peh) must not be confounded with the
Kan-gbo-de (in Forbes, Camboodee), the King's body attendant, whose
lieutenant he is.
2 So-kun is an unintelligible name in the " Bo-fetish."
3 Wa (shark), and kpo (a stick).
78 A Mission to Gehle, King of Dahome.
below the jaw ; an equally grotesque effigy of the " tiger
of the deep," beaten out of a dollar, being tacked on to the
upper part of the handle. " Cannot-get-such-a-son-to-be-
born " had a carved " lion stick, 1 " whose shape is not
easily distinguished from the aquatic animal. These em-
blems of valour are preferred. by the present ruler to the
"crocodile stick, 2 " or the nail-armed crook, 3 with which
the late Gezo used to present his captains.
The royal messengers sent every day to inquire after
our healths and the slave that bore the cane expected for
such suit and service a glass of trade rum. This, at the
capital, will be done by all the great officers, and most
regularly from the palace. It is hardly probable that the
King knows anything about it ; and if the process be-
comes troublesome, it may readily be arrested, by telling
the storekeeper to stop the liquor. As a rule, the Wen-
san-gun delay the stranger for at least a week by the most
specious pretences. They draw from him " subsistence
money," the old local word, at about the rate of four-
pence a day each ; and when the journey ends they ex-
pect a piece of cloth, at the employer's discretion. Such
are the paltry considerations which here waste the visitor's
I gave the messengers to understand that if they were
not ready in three days, they must remain behind, and
afterwards overtake us. This put them on their mettle.
Already our heavy luggage, carried by twenty-two porters,
had been sent forward to the first stage, followed by a
second gang of thirty-seven. Four sets, or thirty ham-
mock-men, completed the equipage, making a total of
ninety-nine mouths, including the messengers and guides,
and not including interpreters and body servants. 4
1 Kini-kini (lion), and kpo (a stick).
2 Logun (crocodile), and kpo (a stick).
3 Ma (knob), and kpo (a stick). Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 226) gives
sketches of these weapons.
4 In Appendix II. the reader will find a list of presents, supplies,
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half -way Hmisf. 79
On December I3th, all was ready. Before setting out,
however, I must briefly sketch the party. Mr. Bernasko
was accompanied by his son Tom, a small boy of eleven,
who already spoke half-a-dozen of the coast dialects; and
Tom had his 'kla, 1 in the shape of " Dick," alias Richard
Dosu, an imp ten years old, and looking five, whose
devilries were a comedy. There were two interpreters,
on the Dahoman principle. The first was John Mark,
popularly called Mariki, or Madlki, 2 the Hun-to, :! or nom-
inal head of the English town, Whydah. He is the son
of Mark Lemon, whom Commander Forbes describes as
a " perfect Dahoman, too big a fool to be a rogue," and
in whom Mr. Vice-Consul Frazer found a very fair aver-
age of rascality. John is great-grandson of an English
corporal who commanded the fort under the second Gov-
ernor James. After the fashion of the country, the
founder of the family is buried in an inner room of his own
home, and a table is annually " spread " for his old ghost
to come and feed. I found John good-natured, obliging,
and more than usually intelligent ; indeed, after a little
drilling and scolding, he became a tolerable language
master and interpreter. He has, however, no weight
with the King, and he is confessedly though partly an
Englishman it made my blood boil to see the contempt
with which he was treated by the negro officers, and the
patience opposed by him to their injuriousness.
and expenses required and incurred during six weeks' to two months'
stay with the King of Dahome.
1 On the Gold Coast a confidential slave, who is killed when his
2 The Dahoman cannot articulate any terminal consonant, except
the highly nasalized n ; he says " Tomu" for Tom, " Gunai 'tu " (goo 1 -
nait'oo) for good night, and so forth.
3 Literally "canoe father," a title given to merchant captains,
governors of petty places, head singers and drummers. Uhun or Hun
is the generic name for a vessel : thus yevo-hun is a white man's ship ;
ajo-hun, a trading vessel ; ahwan-hun, a man-of-war, and zo-hun, a
fire-ship, or steamer.
8o A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The second interpreter was a very different man.
Mr. Beecham was a Makhi slave "dashed" to the Wes-
leyan Mission, and sent to Cape Coast Castle for educa-
tion. With the ready cunning of the servile, he at once
introduced himself there as " Prince Bah" ; -and, such was
his power of "brass," it was long before his base origin
was found out. Returning to Agbome after many years,
he made an impudent attempt to assist in rescuing from
the palace two Dahoman girls, who, having also been
brought up on the Gold Coast, could not endure a return
home. The "prince" was seized, and handed over to
the Meu or second minister, who in these lands is gover-
nor of Horsemonger Lane. It was a treat to see the face
with which he described the horrors of his three days'
incarceration the heavy chains, the handful of grain,
the cup of dirty water once per diem, and the nights on
the hard floor, bitten by the Iwe worm, 1 which, in dread
of a terrible bastinado, he dared not kill. The imprison-
ment, however, had completely cowed him; he used to
weep with fear if ordered to go anywhere, or to say
anything, from which his vivid fancy could distil danger,
and nothing but the strongest drink, constantly adhibited,
carried him through his trials.
The others were of less importance. Mr. Hilton,
coloured tailor and barber, from the Gold Coast, called
himself the ensign, and carried the flag of St. George.
Having served on board an American ship, he had pre-
served the twang. He was also idle, useless, impudent,
and, of course, a drunkard. On one occasion his cups
led him to break into the King's harim, and but for the
respect paid to his missionary master, he would have lost
his head. John Valentine, formerly of the Mission, and
the son of a white soldier, was the spy upon all our
i The Iwe is probably the Italic of the Egbas, a grub bred in or
issuing from mud floors, and celebrated for attacking those who lie
V.From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way Home. 81
movements. Joseph was a Popo rascal, who had once
before deserted and left me in the lurch at Agwe. And
Menza Cook was, like most of the Gold Coast people,
able in his art. The rest were the usual "tail," coining
up, as the natives say, "to eat." These were, a youth
from Danish Accra, called Hansen, because he had no
other name; Jose Pinto, a Portuguese orphan, who was
already no mean linguist ; and various catechumens, the
slave boys of English Town, dashed by the King to
Mr. Bernasco, and named Philip, Isaac Nahum, Laja
(Elijah) Hoole, Sosu, and so forth. They were hideous
to behold, as the African "hobbledehoy" always is; and
their gigantic joints and extremities, of which the head
only was dwindled, seemed connected with their limbs by
loose wires. Their other qualities were hunger, naked-
ness, filth, and idleness. They spent nearly two months
eating and drinking, sleeping and dozing, talking and
laughing, quarrelling and gambling, before they put up
for themselves a shed. It was one day's work. They
never finished it. The first thing an African convert does
is to claim, like the modern English convict, a life of
The sun was already warming when our cortege
wound, in the misty morning air, through the town en-
trance on the north. 1 It is sentinelled by an enormous
Bombax, useless, but of a beauty and a grandeur well
meriting the golden chains with which the nature-loving
Persian hung his favourite plane. Its every branch is a
tree, and its buttressing base measures 150 feet in cir-
cumference: under its ample shade the ground is kept
cleared for Fetish meetings. 2 The natives call it Atin-daho,
i For the distances, altitudes, and other purely geographical
features of the march, the reader is referred to Appendix I.
2, The characteristic feature of the East African ' park-land" is
the vivid ring of luscious verdure invariably sheltered under the shade
VOL. I. 6
82 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahcme.
the Big Tree, or Atin Li-'hun, the " Cotton Tree (of the
place) Li," the latter being a local name. Our six ham-
mocks, including those of John, Mark, and the sharp boy
Tom, were preceded by the youth Bu-ko, who, bearing
the King's cane and a hide-whip, easily cleared the path
by driving all the carriers into the bush, and by dispers-
ing even the juveniles, whose modesty was a phenomenon
in African puerology. We traversed the town in a few
minutes. The last house belongs to one Sogro, a caboceer
or captain, called, like all others, "King's cousin": here
travellers returning from the interior halt for a few minutes,
enabling their canes and party to precede them. Like
most establishments of some pretensions in Dahome,
the house has a tall entrance with a weather-thatch, and
a few matted roofs project a little above the mud walls
of the enceinte.
The hammock in Dahome is not an unpleasant con-
veyance, especially when the warmed back is at times
cooled by walking. These barbarians, however, have
not, like the Hindus, invented a regular four-in-hand;
two men are easily tired, especially by standing still,
which is wearisome to them as to loaded camels. When
they reach a rough place, another pair, diving in between
the usual number, roughly clutch the cloth at the rider's
shoulders and heels, bumping, if possible, his pate against
the pole. This explains the old traveller's complaint
about being "trussed in a bag and tossed on negroes'
heads." They do not carry on the shoulder, but on their
skulls: the notably short and sturdy African negro neck 1
dictates the choice, and a thin coil of rags or dry leaves
amply suffices for the defence of craniums formed rather
of each large tree. Here, as in England, vegetation in such places is
i The shortness of the pure negro's neck is one of his most charac-
teristic features : hence he and his female in European attire always
V.From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 83
for butting than for beauty. Our hammocks are of
modest cottons, whereas the old factors used silks and
broadcloths: before appearing in state, however, we
shall find something gaudy with red and blue. The
cloths are nine feet long by four to five in breadth, and
at both ends small lashings draw the conveyance together
like the old net purse. A noose passes through these
lashings, and the clews are then rove tight to pegs in-
serted into the frond of a bamboo tree (Raphia vim fern).
This pole is objectionable; the brittle material often gives
way, when a bad fall on the occiput is the result : it is
better to send for a good Maderan article, which is
strengthened with iron hooks instead of being weakened
by peg-holes. The pole is nine feet long: over it is
shipped a fringed or valanced awning, fortified by three
cross laths, and provided with i running line to tilt it
down on the side next the sun. The noisier the hammock
men are, and the more they abuse their employer in
their mother tongues the better for him.
Beyond Sogro's place, with its maize -fields, and
the scattered line of lofty Bombax and umbrella-trees,
which backs the town, we issued upon a rolling plain,
open and fair to view. The tall thick Guinea grass,
which is being burned down before the dry-season sow-
ing, rises from old ridges that evidence no remote clearing
in a land ever liable to be overflowed with bush like
the waves of the sea. The bright leek-green vegetation
of the young herbage stands out gaudily from the
black charred stems and from the red loam of the ground.
The road is excellent, ten to twelve feet wide, sandy,
and lately cleared of grass: it is thronged with carriers
in Indian file, mostly women, bearing huge loads lashed
to the usual Yoruba basket. The monotony of the
surface is relieved by clumps and groves of palm-tree,
which are stunted in the open, and which tower in the
bush to exceeding height, seeking good light, air, and
84 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
sun. In other places the palmyra (P. nobilis or Borassus
flabelliformis], and the oil-palm Elais Guineensis), are
scattered like the trees of an English orchard, all the
latter being numbered, with a view to revenue. 1 The
palmyra (locally called cocoa, and by Mr. Duncan "cab-
bage palm") is a noble tree, useful as ornamental.
The hard wood makes excellent cabinet-work, and is so
durable that after 200 years rafters remain as sound as
when first cut. Of course it is barbarously wasted. The
fruit, which hangs in picturesque corymbs about the
rounded neck, resembles a bunch of red and rusty oranges,
but four times the size ; hard and stringy, it is still edible,
with a slight flavour of gingerbread, and after bush fires
it strews the ground with a faint perfume of the mango.
Here the people, unlike those of the Congo River, do not
draw wine from the palmyra. When young the head of
i This variety everywhere yields the best palm wine, which is
superior to the finest cider ; but as the people fell the trees like
Krumen, they are forbidden by a paternal government, which en-
courages the growth for exporting oil, to make it, except " in the
bush." When rumless, they must content themselves with bamboo-
wine, which tastes like soapsuds laced with vinegar. Although one
might hardly expect it, the yield of the cocoa-nut tree is by no means
well-flavoured. -The palm, after being felled, is allowed to lie
for a couple of days, the cabbage is removed for food, and in its
place a pipe, generally a bit of papaw-stalk, conducts the sap into
the calabash below. At times, to make the juice flow more freely, a
lighted stick is thrust into the hole, which is afterwards scraped clear
of charred wood. This " toddy " is the drink of the maritime regions,
where it is most impudently watered, and we shall not taste it beyond
the Agrime swamp. The oil-palm extends from the sea to the north
of Agbome, at least fifty-two direct miles, but how much further I
cannot say. It usually bears fruit twice per annum, in six to eight
bunches at a time, especially during a wet year. The nut is best
here when gathered during the rains ; whereas in the Bight of
Biafra, at that time it becomes watery, and the yield is trodden out
by both sexes, in canoe-shaped troughs. The palm oil of Dahome is
of excellent quality, and a Mohammed AH would soon make the land
too rich for slave-exporting. But these are negroes.
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 85
the bulging stein is often twice as thick as at the foot,
giving to the tree an inverted appearance. When full
grown, the central and symmetrical wave adds, as in the
Grecian column, greatly to its beauty and solidity. In
old age, it often loses its head-tuft, and appears from afar
like a huge flag-staff. There is music also in the fan-
palm : its flabelliform leaves rustle in the sea-breeze
like the rushing of waters or the pattering of rain upon
thick foliage delicious sounde in a thirsty land.
After a quarter of an hour we had crossed a bulge of
grassy ground whose inland counterslope leads down to a
narrow but a dense transverse line of bush, Bombax, and
broad-leaved figs. Here the smell of the hardly eatable
wild mango mingles with many a baser savour. The
jungle-strip through which our path winds may be 200
yards in breadth, and is the result of the superior humidity
diffused by the Agbana water. This marigot runs from
east to west. In May, I found it thigh deep with brown
horsepond lying upon a fetid black bed of vegetable
decay: in December, it wets the calf; in February, it
will show only caked mud, and during the rains it will be
troublesome to travellers. The reader will remember that
I have already shown him * a miniature facsimile of this
The foul marigot was easily crossed : we then
ascended another wave of ground, and found on its flat
surface the little village of Yonu-Pakhon, half buried in
the plantain-bush to our right. Another descent led into
a thick copse, where, during the inundations, water must
run strongly in a hollow parallel with the road. Again a
gentle ascent to clear and level ground placed us amongst
the small plantations outlying the grey thatches and the
mat huts of Savi. Mixed with a large proportion of bush,
were poor maize and wilted cassava, which, in the form
of the insipid and unnutritious farinha, 2 is the staff of life
1 Chapter III.
2 The full phrase is Farinha de pad (wood-meal), being exceed-
86 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
at Whydah, and in Southern Dahome. There are also
mangoes, plantains, a few cocoa-nuts, oranges, the African
apple growing almost wild, and orchards of well-trimmed
The sound of drumming now halted us to form up for
a ceremonious entrance; at two hours before noon the
sun made me regret the comfortable obscurity of my
former march. But "it had to be done." Our stools
the traveller must not forget these articles when visiting
Dahome were ranged under shady trees, and presently
the envoys of Akponi, the Caboceer, who is under the
Yevo-gan of Whydah, came out dancing and tabouring a
welcome. We remounted, and entering Savi took post
under a tall but thin-leaved ficus. In the most public
part of the town, we could see nothing but " compounds,"
huts, and hovels of weather-browned palm-thatch, with
here and there a white calico flag emerging from the bush
or the fruit trees. 1 This, however, is a characteristic of
all Dahoman towns, which are made to look meanest from
the road. The grandees, like the sub-regulus Chyudaton,
who are ever liable to be summoned north, here have
"palaces" for inns. I was shown a fine house of red
swish, banded with red and blue pigments, in an enceinte
containing all sorts of conveniences for white travellers,
ingly like saw-dust. The History (Introd. p. 4) sensibly remarks,
"It is the cheapest and least nutritious of all the substitutes for
bread in the tropical climates ; although it has lately been introduced
into this country (England), and is now sold by the grocers and
apothecaries at a high price, as a pretended remedy for consumption,
under the name of tapioca." The same words, nearly a century after-
wards, will apply to the Revalenta Arabica, the flour of "Adas," or
lentils, which no Egyptian Fellah will eat if he can help it. And yet
" this nutritious and delicious food," &c.
i Commander Forbes writes of Savi : " It has one peculiarity :
in Whydah all the houses are of clay ; in Savee, of palm-branches,
and very low." Had he wandered through the town, he would have
found many tenements of the same description as, and some even
better than, those of Whydah.
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half -way House. 87
with a detached kitchen, feeding rooms, and sleeping huts
for servants. The aneroid proved that Savi is 44 feet
higher than Whydah town ; and we tasted, the last for a
time, the vivifying sea breeze.
" Savi " is written " Savee " by Commander Forbes ;
Sabi, or Sabec (the latter is probably a misprint, copied
into the Ethiopic Directory), by others ; and Xavier, by
Mr. Norris. 1 It was the ancient capital of the kingdom
of Hwe-dah, Fidah, or Whydah, a royaume not exceed-
ing the principality of Lichtenstein, but provided with an
army of 200,000, not of seventy, soldie*rs.- Bosnian,
Barbot, and Phillips, at the end of the last century, dwelt
lengthily upon its wealth, its fertility, and its wonderful
populousness, the rascality of its people, and the villany
of its royal animalculae. In 1722 the despot of Whydah,
upon whose court that of modern Dahome seems to have
been modelled, could afford to "dash" a half-hundred
weight of gold-dust to Captain, afterwards Sir Challoner
Ogle, for capturing off Cape Lopez, and duly hanging,
the pirate Roberts, in his ship, aptly named the " Royal
Fortune." Savi was separated from its northern neigh-,
bour, Allada (Ardrah), by_a_dangejous swamp, which we;
sjiall presently, cross. In these lands, where there ard
neither streets nor public buildings, and where the best
houses are of swish, we must not expect an approach to
architectural antiquities ; nothing now remains of the
ancient glories of Savi ; even in A.D. 1772, we are told,
only the moats of the many European forts could be
traced. A long trench, with a tall growth of trees, was
the sole remnant of the palace occupied by the Whydah
1 See Preface. It is not a little curious that the map and the
orthography of 1772 are still copied into our best charts of 1864.
2 In quoting these apparently impossible forces, it must ever be
remembered that the African army consists of the \vhole of the male
population between eighteen and fifty. Thus it would be easy to
raise 200,000 men from a total of 2,000,000 souls in Negroland, not
88 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
kings, whose descendants, even in their exile, held their
ancient capital sacred. Savi is now a fine large village, a
market, and a halting-place for travellers ; its population
has been rated at 4000, which I would reduce by one
Our reception at Savi must be described ; it will
save the trouble of repetition. At every village, even
where only two dancers could be mustered, upon us was
the ceremony inflicted. Advancing in our hammocks,
which were preceded by men capering, firing, and shout-
ing songs of welcome, we saw the Caboceer Akponi
prepared to receive us in state under the ragged "fit us oir
the west of the town. Shaded by a tattered and battered
old white calico umbrella, he sat upon a tall Gold-Coast
stool, with a smaller edition cut out of the same block
supporting his naked feet. He was a quiet-looking
senior, in a striped waist-cloth ; a single blue Popo bead, 2
strung with a human incisor to a thread a Chiefly decora-
tion, represented the rest of his toilette. Our seats
were ranged opposite the Caboceer, mine in the centre,
Mr. Cruikshank's on the right, the Yewe-no 3 on my left,
the interpreters behind, and the rest anywhere. After
greetings and compliments, ensued a ceremony never
afterwards neglected the "King's wife" was whispered
by the chief, and frequently she returned with a large
calabash, covered by a drinking cup of the same ma-
terial, full of pure water. 4 De-Adan-de explained to the
1 Mr. Duncan rates the population of " Savay " at 150 souls.
2 A semi-mineral bead of many kinds, dug up in this part of the
world, and a subject of some discussion. Every West African book
alludes to it, and I have no new information that would justify a
3 Yewe-no, or God-mother, i.e., God man, is the name taken by
Protestant missionaries, to distinguish themselves from Vodun-no,
Fetish-mother, or Fetish man. The French seem to prefer Mau-no,
which is, as will be found, equally objectionable.
4 The water on this road is generally white as milk, and some-
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 8y
interpreter, who reported to us, that this luxury was sent
to wash our mouths and to cool our hearts after the march.
The officer first tasted it, and we all followed his example.
The xenium, or guest-gift, was then placed before us.
It varied with the wealth of the place. In a thriving
town it consisted of a huge pot of water, a calabash of
poor palm-oil, and a bowl of purer stuff, baskets of oranges
and papaws, boiled maize, beans, and yams, cooked
manioc, " akansan " wrapped in leaves, " cankey," " agidi,"
"fufu," and a very tasty pudding, called "wo. 1 "
times bitter to boot. The price, during the dry season, varies from
forty cowries, or one string, to four times that sum, per gallon, in a
country where a man can feed himself for 120 shells a day.
i Akansan is corn (maize), finely levigated by means of cankey
stones, which resembles the "rubstones" of Ireland. Here, as in
Europe, the instrument precedes the "quern " ; it is the rudest and
the most laborious way of grinding, but the best. The nether stone
is a smooth granite slab, convex behind, and above hollowed into a
concavity by use : it is disposed at an angle, sloping from the grinder,
so as to allow the ground material to fall off. Some thirty to forty
grains of well-soaked maize are placed upon it, to be bruised and
pounded with a circular stone rubber or pestle, tapering, for a handle,
at both ends. The housewives work like painters grinding colours,
often stopping to wet the corn with water, and they are unpleasant
to behold. The material is then placed in wallets like cowrie-bags,
and during one day is allowed to ferment in the sun. It is after-
wards mixed with water boiled in country pots, and laboured till the
sediment, which is good for fattening sheep, goats, and pigs, subsides.
The clearer portion is again strained, and boiled to the consistency
of gruel. It hardens like blanc mange when it cools ; and, lastly, it is
packed in leaves. This African succedaneum for bread is wholesome,
nutritious, cooling, and slightly acidulated the sour and the bitter
are instinctively preferred in hot, damp, and bile-exciting climates.
It is almost always procurable in Yoruba, a few cowries per diem
support a man, and if well made, as by the women of Hausa and the
parts adjoining, it will be relished by the traveller after a week's
practice. Mixed with water and drunk, it forms a cool subacid
drink, suitable for hot weather. I cannot but suspect that the
" Akassa Creek," which connects the Brass and Nun rivers, derives
its name from this " staff of life." Agidi and cankey are coarser
stuffs ; lio is stronger than akansan : kaji is the smallest and highest
go A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
chicken, a fowl, or a goat denote a rich man. Where
the King has palaces the wives forward dishes of palaver
sauce, stews of pork and poultry, rich with the Occro, 1
and similar savoury dishes. The return was rum or
gin. Owing, however, to the carelessness of So-kun,
our boxes were hurried forwards, and we were obliged to
borrow liquor on the road. The guides expect a glass
every morning and evening when they come to salute,
and the hammock-men also have a ration of rum. So
So-kun's hours were duly made bitter.
After the offering was given and acknowledged, the
dance began. As at Whydah, most of the fighting men
had gone to the capital for the annual "Customs," and
the largest number found in any village on the route was
sixteen. Dressed in war tunics and armed with muskets,
they were aligned by the master of ceremonies, horse-
tail in hand, opposite the band, which consisted of the
usual Chingufu or cymbals, horns, rattles, and drums.
The latter, in a full band, comprises the "grande caisse,"
supported between the performer's legs, and beaten with
two clubs a foot and a half long: the treble to this bass
is a tom-tom or tabour, suspended to the musician's neck,
and tapped with the hand palm. There is also a con-
necting link between the two, a drum four to five feet
long by one in diameter, open behind, and supported on
bamboo trestles. The head is smeared with " awon,"
flavoured, and there are other varieties, as numerous as our breads.
Fufu is mashed yam. " Wo," pronounced Waw, and by some trav-
ellers written Dab-a-dab, or Dabb-adab, is a kind of hasty pudding,
eaten cold ; a thick pancake of maize or Guinea corn-flour, mixed
with boiling water, and stirred about with sticks till thickened to the
consistency of batter ; it is then picked out with bits of gourd, and
moulded till cold in a shallow calabash. We found it by no means
unpalatable, especially when it came from " the palace." The
Dahomans, it will be seen, are anti-Banting, and fond of azymous
i Hibiscus esculentus, in Whydah, called Nye *un ; in Agbome,
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Halfway Hoiisf. 91
the gum of a tree, and it is operated upon by means of a
stick in the right hand, and in the other a dwarf rattan
bow with a leathern thong, the part applied. At the
King's levees we shall meet with other drums.
Amongst the two hundred spectators were seven of
the chiefs elder wives, mostly fat, one white with leper
spots, and all clad in simple blue baft. They passed to
our right, and, presenting their backs, danced opposite a
branch band of four rattles and otabals, seated upon the
ground. They performed mincingly, threatened to raise
their clothes by slightly lifting the corners, and they were
presently joined by the youngest children, whose diminu-
tive limbs tottered over the loose dusty ground.
Meanwhile, the twelve warriors carried us back to
the days of the Curetes. They began with the " agility
dance," all advancing in line. Then one would spring to
the fore, paddling, stamping, agitating the lower part of
his person ; above jerking his elbows as if he wished to
make the bones dash together ; and pirouetting with legs
far apart, one raised, and after the turning, brought down
to the ground, not on toe-tip, but on the whole length
and breadth of the vasty sole, he would call forth the
general applause of the lookers-on, who clapped with their
palms time for the band and humoured the whims of the
When perspiration made every coat shine like a sea-
lion's hide, the men stood and the women sat to sing the
chorus, which was,
" The flesh liveth not without the bone."
This part was worthy of the Italian opera. There was
the same time-honoured action, the same meaningless
head-shaking of the artists when addressing one another
about nothing, the identical extending and waving the
right arm to no purpose, and the veritable Shakspeare-old
stride and stand, as if human being out of Bedlam ever
9 2 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
progressed in that way. All was professional as a chorus
of peasants in Sonnambula.
Akponi then paraded stridingly before his men,
boasting of his devotion to the King, and his readiness to
serve the Akhosu-Jono, the " King's strangers." Coming
forward, he interpellated me. I was safe within my slave's
lands. If I ordered him to jump (suiting the action to the
word), jump he must; if told to fly (fluttering his arms),
he must become a bird ; and if sent beneath the earth
(smoothing the dust with his hand), he must go there.
Dahomans delight in these ridiculous displays, which are
those of the Court, and such is the true African's innate
vanity, the King takes equal pleasure in hearing the
absurdest vaunts, whilst the most Hibernian " blarney "
is most prodigally spouted at him by his lieges.
The speeches were delivered with immense vehe-
mence of voice and gesture : at times a screaming ques-
tion was addressed to the bystanders, who replied with a
loud long-drawn groan of general assent and applause.
At times the normal Dahoman "present arms" varied the
proceedings. It was acknowledged by removing the hat
and thrice waving the arm. As the " decapitation dance"
began, we excused ourselves on account of the sun, and
retired to breakfast. If the performance take place at a
late hour, it is better to give the chief a rendezvous at
one's quarters in the evening ; for the chorus will be
followed by a dance, and the dance by another chorus, and
so on till the village can no more.
When the sun began to slope, we took ceremonious
leave of Akponi, the Caboceer, who preceded us with
umbrella and band, whilst the musketeers followed our
hammocks. A few paces over descending ground led
us through the rude market, where a knot of women sat
before their baskets of edibles. Then we struck into the
beginning of the bush (or forest) land, which, with a few
clearings, extends from Savi to Allada : it is so thick that
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 93
axes would be required by those wishing to leave the
path. We halted at the De-nun, or octroi-house, ever
the entrance and exit of Dahoman, "and, indeed, of all
Yoruba towns. The_place of profit was denoted by a
Jo-susu, or wind-luck, 1 which commonly appears at gates
and entrances. It is a gallery of three thin poles, under
which the road passes. From the horizontal limb depends
a mat four feet square, painted with a St. Andrew's cross
in red, in black, or in both mixed, and where the four
arms meet, a cock is crucified, like St. Peter, head down-
wards. As will appear, tricks are played with crucifixes
in Dahome, and it is impossible to judge whether the
Jo-susu is an aboriginal or an imported idea distorted.
The unoffending " bird that warned Peter of his fall,"
appears in public always gagged by a thong passed
between the mandibles and tied behind the head : a
rooster may crow in the house, but if he give tongue on
the highway or in the market-place, he is confiscated to
the "market master," or to the fetish man. I could
find no reason for the custom, but "we custom":
it is probably only an item of the whimsical per-
quisites which form part of the plundering system
of all semi-barbarous hierarchical communities. The
turnpike is universal throughout these lands. A rope is
stretched by the collector across the road, and is not let
\ down till all have paid their cowries. 2 The octroi is not
1 Jo or Jo-hun means the wind ; Susu, luck or good fortune. It
is a charm to prevent a bad wind (in the Kisawahili tongue, P'hepo,
wind and demon or bad ghost, are synonymous) entering the house,
and the fowl is crucified as a scapegoat. One was placed by the
landlord over the gate of our house at Agbome, but I "abolished " it.
2 Cowries, it must be remembered, are merchandise, and the
price varies accordingly : at present they are abundant, and there-
fore cheap. The dollar (45. 6d.) now buys 2$ heads at Whydah and at
Agbome, 3 heads and 20 strings at Lagos and at Abeokuta. The head,
therefore, once worth a dollar, whence its name, now represents in
Dahome is. 9$d., and the string, id. and a fraction ; whilst 8
94 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
unreasonable, 1 but most of the market folk being women,
there is always a tremendous clatter. Fetish and tax-
paying, I have said, go together. We were greeted by
Ahopanu, the head publican, and the priest, who presented
us with water and two fowls. They apologised for there
being no food, and declared that, expecting us, they had
cooked five days ago, which was probably true.
After leaving the De-nun, we came to a wall of stiff
grass, and to a short descent leading to the Nyinsin 2 Swamp.
It is now about 150 feet broad, and waist deep ; during
the rains it is much worse. The banks are a forest of fern
of light green pandanus, and of dull herbaceous shrubs :
the water is dark as coffee-grounds, reposing upon foul
and feculent black mud, into which the porters sink to
mid-calf. To the right is a corduroy road, rudely made
with rugged tree trunks, of which men avail themselves
when arrived at the deepest part. During my last visit
' it was almost impracticable ; it is now a little better, and
somewhat like the old " railway " of the western states of
the Union ; in February we shall find it repaired. The
swamp flows, after rains, out of and again into the Why-
dah Lagoon, thus converting at that time the site of
the modern Whydah town into a "continental islancl^ll
This was known to the old mappers, who, however, have
either made the northern arm of the lake stream too con-
siderable, or that feature has in the lapse of time greatly
cowries are equal to a cent. There are a number of names for this
shell-coin amongst the natives, beginning with a unit and ending
with tens of thousands. Indeed high numbers can be counted by
the natives only with cowrie nomenclature.
i The bullock pays i head of Zanzibar " blues," or large cheap
cowries ; the goat or sheep 10-15 strings ; a basket of a dozen fowls
5-10 strings ; a small pot of palm-oil (5 gallons), or a basket of grain
(30 Ibs.), 5 strings ; whilst wood and water are not taxed. The port-
dues of Whydah and Godome are of course different ; moreover,
they vary with every reign.
-2. This is in the old Whydah language, at present not intelligible.
V. From Whydah to'Allada, the Half-way House. 95
shrunk. Mr. Norris (1772) speaks of it as a pretty deep
and rapid river, with shelter for numerous elephants, and
in old times if was bridged over with wooden piles, covered
with faggots and hurdles, and annually repaired.
The Nyin-sin swamp, which separates the old king-
dom of Whydah from its northern neighbours, Toli and
Allada, is a historical feature. The last king of Savi was
Kufon, the Boabdil of his country; he had ascended the
throne at the age of eighteen, and he had speedily sunk
into an effeminate and bloated debauchee. In 1708, when
the old king died, there had been a great civil war for the
succession, many had fled, and others, especially the
chiefs, had been killed ; for years the race, demoralised
by coast life, had shunned arms, and only plebeians would
consent to be generals over slave-soldiers : Whydah was
thus ripe for the gathering.
The warrior King, AAgaja Dosu of Agbome, after
taking Allada with dreadful slaughter in 1724,* deter-
i The earliest sketch of Dahome is a letter dated Abomey,
November 27. 1724, from Mr. Bulfinch Lambe (not Lamb), agent at
Allada for the English African Company, addressed to Mr. Tinker
(not Tucker) the commandant of the English fort, Whydah. The
capture of Allada is graphically, and in the main faithfully, des-
cribed ; and Commander Forbes found it so curious and truthful that
he reprinted it in his Appendix, No. i, from the end of "Smith's
New Voyage to Guinea " (1745). Mr. Lambe quitted Agbome about
April, 1726. According to Captain Snelgrave, he took with him, by
the King's order, a Jackin negro, named Tom, who had been made
prisoner at Allada, and who, speaking English, was sent to see
England, and to bring back a report for the King's ears. Instead of
this he sold Tom to a gentleman in Maryland. Then hearing in
Antigua, in 1728, that the King had promised to him a shipload of
slaves if he came back in time, he persuaded Tom's master to give
him up, and returned with him to England in 1731. Finding it was
too late to revisit Africa after five years, Lambe forged a letter from
the King of Dahome to George II., and made Tom Dahoman
ambassador, under the name of Prince Adomo Oroonoko Tomo.
11 Prince Tom " was a great success till Captain Snelgrave ridiculed
Knsjlish credulity, the King's letter was declared supposititious by
g6 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
mined to subjugate Whydah. Kufon contented himself
with declaring that he would turn his enemy into a menial
slave. Whereupon Agaja attacked the northern pro-
vinces of Whydah, which were under the hereditary
government of a great caboceer called " Appragah. 1 " The
latter applied for assistance to head-quarters, and enemies
at court caused him to be ignored : after a weak defence
he submitted to Dahome, who received him kindly and
presently restored him to his possessions.
Agaja then encamped upon the northern edge of this
Nyin-sin swamp. He had no boats, his army could pass
the river only by fording, and even this was impracti-
cable except at the present path, where 500 resolute men
could have repulsed a host. The infatuated Whydahs,
however, instead of defending their frontier line, were
contented to place with great ceremony Danh, the fetish
snake, Dan-like, in the path.
Agaja had retired upon Allada to levy his whole
force, leaving the field army under his general. The
latter seeing only a snake to oppose progress, ordered 200
resolute fellows to try the ford. They not only crossed it
unimpeded, but were able to penetrate into the capital.
The outguards of the town were asleep, it being
3 P.M., and when they were awakened by the shouting
and sounds of martial music, all fled, crying that the
Dahoman army had passed the river. The massacre
rivalled that of Allada, the altars of the gods and the
ancestral tombs were deluged with the blood of 4000 men.
Kofun, however, and many of his train, escaped to the
English fort, Whydah, after which they found their way
to the islands near Popo.
Thus Savi and Whydah, in the beginning of March,
1727, became part of the empire of Dahome.
the Lords of Trade, and the slave-ambassador was sent back to his
own country, " where, no doubt, he made an advantageous report of
the sagacity and penetration of our countrymen."
i I can learn nothing of this word, which occurs in the History.
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 97
Crossing the Nyin-sin swamp, which requires five to
fifteen minutes, according to the state of the bridge, we
found ourselves once more on a solid path of red sand,
rising regularly to a country of bush, of clearings, and of
thin palmyra forest. The sun began to burn, and we
looked in vain for shade, which the broad road rendered
impossible. The termites arborum showed us their large
nests hanging like huge black wens from the white
throats of the trunks and boughs. After crossing another
serration of thick strong bush, tall grass walls, and wild
trees, we fell into a densely wooded descent, whose sole is
occupied by the Adangwin * or Toli Water : it was ap-
proached by fetish huts and charred trees. We found it
almost dry; so will it be in February: in last May and
June, however, it was a mixture of peat-bog and of horse-
pond, almost as black and filthy as its neighbour. Then
began a regular ascent of steps in the land upon whose
summit a loud drumming and singing informed us that
we were approaching the terminus of the stage Toli.
The aneroid denoted a decided rise (140 feet) from Savi.
The best and thickest part of the town lies to the east of
the road : we were, however, led round the western
suburbs, where we found the "corrobory" in full force,
and not a few of the performers "unco' fou."
There were two umbrellas under a shady tree. The
blue belonged to a silver-armletted 2 caboceer, Ahwanho,
or "war belly," a blear-eyed senior hard to deal with, as
are all King Gezo's ancient officials. The white was of
Wubikha, junior governor, and reputed to be our friend :
a dark, fat, smiling, "jolly " individual, with a loose pig-tail
1 This is also in the old Whydah tongue.
2 These are made of dollars beaten out thin, hollow cylinders,
half a foot long, fastened with hooks and holes, with plain surfaces
or with grotesque figures. Most of them are made at Agbome ;
some show, by the human heads upon them, that they are of
VOL. I. 7
98 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
of white cotton threads, each rove on to one of his many
necklaces of beads and coral, and hanging half way down
his spine. As we took our seats before the band and
snapped fingers with the chiefs, the circle lengthened into
an oval, broken where women were singing at the oppo-
site end. There was some peculiarity in the dance, which
was opened in the usual way by the two governors.
Came the blacksmith l bringing his anvil, and holding
with pincers the hot iron which he had been hammering:
he showed us the bullets with which his master was pre-
paring for war, and capered with his craft-instruments
held high above his head. The missiles were badly-
fitting bits of cut bar, subcircular, and all facets; they
must fly wide, and they cannot hit hard. Then rushed
up the carpenter, saw and plane in hand, made an
address, and danced with his tools en I'air. Followed
the elephant hunters, braves, with blackened frontis-
pieces ; the bards, who are also captains ; and the women,
who performed rather prettily compared with Savi.
Lastly, the chorus gave us a taste of its quality. After
half-an-hour we bowed to the caboceers, and escorted by
Wubikha, who promised the rest of the ballet in the
evening, we retired from the sun.
Toli, also written Tollee, Toree, and by Barbot
Torry, 2 was in old times an independent state measuring
about four leagues in circumference. Kingdoms in this
part of Africa were not unlike those of England when she
numbered 16 of E. Saxons, 14 of E. Angles, and 17 in
1 The blacksmith in these lands is not an object of superstition ;
the highest craftsman is the King's Huntoji or silversmith. The
instruments are rude in the extreme ; the anvil is a half-buried rock,
the bellows are of common African type, the hammer is a cone of
iron held in the hand, and the grindstone is a bit of fine close granite,
shaped like the article with which the English mower whets his
2 Barbot (Book 4) gives a fair account of this little place in the
clays of its independence.
V.Fiom Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 99
Kent ; and kings are like those of Ireland in the days of St.
Patrick, when 200 were killed in one battle. It is now im-
possible to find the site of "Foulan or Foulaen, the sea-
port or principal town of the Torry country, seated on the
Torry river, which runs almost east and west to Great
Popo." The latter feature, however, can be nothing but
the Adangwin swamp, which, after nearly two centuries
of filling up, is now stagnant. Possibly, also, there may
be upheaval in the land. Dahome has lately felt an
earthquake, and already during my short stay on the
West African coast, the shore about Accra is hardly to
Toli is now a large market: the interior is fully equal
to Savi, which it a little excels in population. The posi-
tion, at the head of a plateau, with its fine view of the
terminal fall to the south, is beautiful, and at dawn the
thermometer showed 70 deg. (F.) The air is said to be
We found lodgings at the house of Antonio Dosu,
known as Dosu Yevo, or the "after-twin white man 1 ": he
was lying ill with Guinea worm at Whydah, and his
establishment was not in a flourishing condition. The
flibbertygibbet, Richard Dosu, his son, soon brought us
the necessaries for dinner, and, being in no want of time,
we resolved to pass the night at Toli.
After the event of the day, we were conducted by
Wubikha, the good-tempered, to see the end of the dance.
It was the merriest evening spent on the march perhaps
during the whole of our stay in Dahome. Dr. M'Leod
would have compared it to the " revelry of devils and
witches as witnessed by poor Tam O' Shanter in Halloway
Kirk." I confess to have enjoyed the "demonaic scene."
All the best-looking girls were habited in men's straw
i Dosu is the general name of a boy born after twins ; he is
called Yevo, or white man, from having been educated in a civilized
manner at Bahia.
ioo A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
hats, with breast-cloths girt crosswise to imitate the
soldieresses of the capital, and a little attention to them
took wonderful effect. The airs were simple but har-
monious, and could reform any recitative save that of the
Gran' Maestro Verdi, on whom all Europe delights beyond
the minima contentos node Britannos. And when we clapped
palms to the measure, the buoyant gaiety of the caboceers
knew no bounds ; it became a manifesto, phrenesis. The
chiefs placed their weapons in our hands as a call to
dance, but explaining that the King must first see the
novelty, we passed on, as is the custom, the knives to our
servants, who performed vicariously. The crisis was when
double flasks of gin were presented to the danseuvs and the
danseuses: we retired deafened by the din. The tough
nerve and the hard brain of the negro find excitement
only in the loudest and shrillest sounds; he is like the
children in England, who, at all times delighted with
blowing off powder, will grease the gun's muzzle to
increase the report. What causes headache and cerebral
fatigue to the white man, only titillates the callous African
After sunrise we set out down a path ten feet wide,
en route to Azohwe, our resting-place. Beyond Toli,
around which there are great fires before planting for the
rainy season, grass disappeared except in the clearings.
There were traces of cardamoms in the dense bush 1 ; the
shrubs and tall trees formed deep lanes which promised a
cool march. Hardly had we left the town, when we
were stopped by four fetish men, drumming, singing, and
capering in the raw clammy morning air; the exercise
appeared as inappropriate to the hour as that " dawn-
wine " of which the Persian poets sing so lovingly. There
was a pretty maize plantation on our left, with a tall fence
i On the Toffo road we afterwards found them in flower and
fruit ; the latter is eaten at Dahome, and, as will be seen, forms part
of the King's diet on campaigns.
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Hilf-way House. 101
of matted palm-leaves, and a door of the same material.
The road narrowed from ten feet to three, and assumed
the semblance of the noble natural avenues that beautify
the lower parts of Fernando Po. Nothing could be softer
and more picturesque than the contrast of the tall white
spars with the twisted spiral creepers ; nothing could be
more delicate than the transparent lacery and filigree of
the upper foliage picked out from the milky blue back-
ground of the heavenly vault that lent to the verdure a
portion of its own azure. The shadow of the smallest
shrub purpled the earth with a lovely distinctness, and
the play of light and shade in the forest made a study fit
for Claude Lorraine. After the normal stage, which
never exceeded six miles, we reached a little market-
place called Azohwe ; it was approached by a decided
fall, although the aneroid showed but a trifling descent.
Azohwe, the half-way house between Toli and Allada,
derives its name from a man who ruled there in the days
of Agaja the Conqueror. It lies on the left of the way
showing a few thatches above a wall^f_red clay, and it is
everywhere girt by a noble forest. The market is held
outside the settlement under the licus and fetish trees
that form its approach ; at that hour it was poorly
attended. We were kindly received by the people, and
an old woman from English Town, Whydah, made us
exceedingly comfortable. After breakfasting in a cool
hut, and enduring the necessary amount of dancing and
drumming, drinking and wasting powder, we bade adieu
The road became a lane of shrubbery with the
brightest flowers, red and blue, pink and yellow, governed
here and there by a queenly white lily. We saw none of
the " blossoms of the air," the gorgeous butterflies, which
I had admired before the rains ; all were modest white
and yellow. The animal which typifies the human
animula, acquires strange bad habits in these lands ; no
IO2 A Mission to Gelde, King of Dahome.
one would sing " I'd be a butterfly," after disturbing one
of its repasts. 1
Ensued sundry long flats and well-wooded ascents,
terminating in a large grass clearing, which, here and
there patched with palms, bush, and forest, showed that
we were entering an extensive place. At noon we cried
Do-ddo 2 ! at a cleanly swept De-nun, where fetish sheds
swarmed. We were welcomed with water and provisions
by the well-meaning old publican So-kun Do-gan, who
brought in person a carafon of muscadel wine for ourselves,
and a bottle of gin for those thirsty souls, our attendants.
After force complimens we resumed hammocks and
traversed the maize plantations ; on our left were detached
houses and long palaver sheds, dark verandahs formed
by the thatched eaves. A few minutes took us to the great
square, a copy in parvo of the grande place at Agbome. The
T"~ parallelogram had scatters of trees and fetish huts, and on
\ the south-west was a Singbo 3 or double-storied tenement of
\ red clay, with five shuttered windows over the royal gate-
\ way. This, out of Whydah, is a royal style of abode, and
I is not permitted to strangers or to subjects. The palace
' compound appears to be a mass of bush and palm ; as usual,
it cannot be entered, because the King's women and female
"""slaves occupy it, and every gap is sedulously closed. At
the north-west end, under the normal shed projecting
from the palace wall, were three umbrellas, light blue,
dark blue, and white, denoting the several dignities of the
1 About the bad habits of these "butterfly schools," see Mr.
Duncan, vol. i. p. 209. He clapped his hat upon the heap, and
secured fifty to sixty of all sorts and colours.
2 Let down (the hammock), opposed to Zeiji, raise it up ! But
Dedde! means, softly! like the Fanti "Bleo." The monosyllabic
verb in Dahoman when repeated, seems to reduplicate the middle
consonant, e.g., Do! Do! becomes Doddo!
3 Singbo, Singbo-men or Singbo-eji, are terms applied to all
double-storied buildings, as, e.g., the forts at Whydah. Hence the
"Simbome" of Commandant Forbes.
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half -way House. 103
In compliment to the royal abode we were carried
three times round the square, a large and noisy band
following my hammock. Then dismounting, we exchanged
greetings with the acting chief caboceer, the Menjo-ten. 1
He was a fine middle-aged man with silver bracelets, his
colleagues wearing brass. These, like the Tunisian deco-
rations, show the differences of rank. He is said to be
friendly to the English, and he certainly proved himself
so on that occasion. Remarking the extreme solar heat,
he led us at once to the house of the old Meu, four bare
walls apparently converted into a caravanserai. Here we
definitively learned, to the general sorrow, that all our
boxes had been, by the stupidity or rascality of the English
guide, carried on to the capital.
Allada is called by^older authors Ardrah,- another
i Menjo (man born), Ten (in the place). His principal is the
Ak-pulogan. In Dahoman names and titles the following termina-
tions mostly occur :
Men (with peculiarly nasal N, sounding like " me") "in," as Danh-ho-
men, and Agbo-men. In many local names it appears almost pleonastic,
and thus corresponds with the Ni (in) of the Kisawahili and East African
dialects, e.g., Kilima-ni, Mfu 'u-ni.
nd, mother, carrier, master of, &c.
-nun, mouth, side, man.
'Si, from A si, a wife.
-ten, prefix or affix, in the place, e.g., ten-che-men,in my place. Also -gon,
e.g., Atto-gon, monkey's place.
-to (taw), father, or "he who does," e.g., wit-to, he who kills.
-ton (with nasal n), belonging to, e.g., Beecham-ton-e, it is Beecham's
-vi, a child, the son of.
i In the oldest authors, Bosnian and Barbot, it is called Great
Ardrah, and is placed at the distance of sixteen leagues from its
port, Little Ardrah or Offra, with which it was connected by a good
and spacious road. The latter is clearly our modern " Porto Novo "
New Haven which the Yorubas call "Ijashe," and the Popos
"Hwebonu." Hence some writers, as Mr. Norris (1772), make
Ardrah, or Assem, on the Lagoon, and Ardrah, or Alladah, in the
interior. So Commander Forbes (vol. i. p. 12) speaks of " Ardrah,
whose capital Allahdah still remains." " Porto Novo " proper is
104 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
instance of lambdacism, confusing the L and the R. 1
The Ethiopic Directory gives Essaam 2 and Aratakassu
Alatakassu. : It is the ancient capital of a kingdom
somewhat larger than Whydao, bounded on the north by
the Agrime swamp, and southwards by Toli. The Daho-
mans look upon it with reverence as the cradle of their
race. The king does not build his own palace'W swish
till he has sat on the sacred stool of his ancestors in Allada
House, and has been invested with a fine silk coat, which
completes his inauguration. 3
The tradition touching Allada, which is not found in
books, but is known to every boy in the kingdom, is this,
and it explains how the error of making two Ardrahs
arose. About A.D. 1620, an old and wealthy king of
Allada proper died, and left his property to his three
the old "beach" or port of Hwebonu, and is mentioned in the
History. It lies four to five miles from its main town, and was re-
built by M. J. D. Martinez. We have blunderingly transferred its
name to the chief settlement on the Lagoon. Unless read by this
light, the History will in places for instance, the troubles between
Allada (Porto Novo) and Dahome, in 1786 be unintelligible.
1 The Popos and Dahomans have the same lallation as the
Chinese, who call rum " lum." So the Genoese confuse the sounds
in the word "gloria," and the Neapolitans transpose the letters, as
Galibardi for Garibaldi.
2 A long account of Allada, and description of the state and
dignity of the King, are given by Barbot (Book 4, chap. ii). But he
derived his description from hearsay. We can hardly accept the
spacious and well-built houses, the fine gardens, the cavalry, and
other such details. The kings, however, appear to have been com-
paratively civilized. Alkeny, or Tezy, was educated at S. Thome,
with a tincture of Christianity, and at the age of seventy he sent one
D. Matteo Lopez as his ambassador-extraordinary to the Court of
France. From Barbot we also learn that about 1700 the Moslems
were so powerful at Allada, that their great " Marabou" had the
privilege of seeing the king night and day. This enables us to ex-
plain Essaam or Assem by the Arab, i.e., Aazem or the Greater
3 The History mentions this ceremony (p. 227). As will be
seen, the present King is not yet duly crowned.
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half -way House. 105
sons. These agreed that the eldest should reign in his
father's stead, which he did, in peace and prosperity,
under the name of Allada 'Khosu, or King of Allada. 1
" D6," the youngest, or some say the second, rounded the
Upper Nohwe or Denham Waters of our charts, and
founded Hwebonu, which we have since known as
/ Little Ardrah and Porto Novoi Hence the Dahoman
Jcmg^stfll calls him of Hwebonu "brother." The cadet
Lako (the " Tacoodoonou" of our histories) went north,
crossed the Agrime swamp, settled at a place called
" Uhwawe," and less correctly, Hawowi, 2 between Kana
and Agbome, where the Adan-we palace was afterwards
built. Hence the History tells us that " the original
capital of Dahome was ' Dawhee, 3 ' between the towns
of Calmina (Kana) and Aboiney, at about ninety miles
from the sea coast."
Uhwawe belonged to a chief named Awesu, who
allowed the ambitious stranger to settle there. Dako, by
degrees becoming powerful, encroached upon a neighbour-
ing kinglet, named Danh, the Snake or Rainbow. As his
followers greatly increased in number, and as he was ever
asking more ground from Danh, the latter exclaimed, in
wrath, " Soon thou wilt build in my belly ! " Dako
bided his time, slew the king, and erected over his corpse
the old palace of Dahome, 4 " in Danh's (or the Snake's)
i This explains the Alatakassu of the Directory, a confusion be-
tween the King's title and the name of the place.
2 It lies on bath sides of the road, and the people are still a dis-
tinct race from the Ffons proper or Dahomans.
3 Which some writers, e.g., the author of the Preface to the
History, have determined, much against its grain, to be the Dauma
of Leo Africanus, corrupted in Plancius' map to " Dauina," and
misprinted by Commander Forbes " Dauna."
4 The legend may arise from the name ; one suspiciously like it
(and these things can hardly happen in pairs) will presently be found
in the word Agri-go-men. The " History of Dahomy " explains the
word by "The house in Da's belly," remarking in a note. "The
106 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
belly." Hereupon the Ffons 1 changed their name to
Dahomans 2 ; and, thus, about 1625, arose the once great
military empire familiar to the ears of Europe.
The kingdoms of Dahome and Allada were friendly,
as became brethren, till 1724, when Agaja, the Scourge
of God in these regions, resolved to open a road from the
interior to the sea. Mr. Bulfinch Lambe, to whom
allusion has been made, described in his short account of
that war (''that resulted in the capture of Ardrah, of
which he was an unwilling witness"), the savage power
and state of the conquering northerner. Being "shut up
belly, in the Dahoman tongue, is homy." But the nasal and the
terminal aspirate in Danh are sensible. Moreover, the English slur
at the end of Homy is here inadmissible. The word Ho, " venter "
is articulated with the guttural Arabic Ha ( ) sometimes, though
erroneously, confounded with the Spanish Jota, which is the Semitic
Kha ( . ) . Ho-men (stomach in) means the ilia. Thus the full
compound word would be Danh-ho-men (meaning either " Danh's
intestines," or " In Danh's belly "). The people prefer the latter.
This nasal n being unmanageable, both to reader and printer, I dis-
card for " Dahome." The public, however, is requested to pronounce
Dah-ome like Ashan-ti instead of Dahomy and Ashanti. The
Portuguese, who are weak at gutturals, get over the Semitic Ha by
changing it into g, " Dagome."
1 The History informs us that the Dahomans were formerly
called Foys, and other authors have changed the word to Fohi, Fay,
and Fouin. It is clearly derived from Ffon, which some write Ffun
and Efun, the old national name for the Dahoman and his language.
I am unable to state whether it has a common derivation with the
so-called Efong people of Kakanda, living between Yoruba proper
and the Niger and Kwara rivers. What makes me suspect a mys-
terious and forgotten connection is the prevalence of the Afa practice
(see chapter xii.) in Dahome, which arose in Ife of Kakanda (Wan-
derings in West Africa, Abeokuta, chapter v.). Ffon must not be
confounded with Efutu, the language of a single tribe, Winnebah, on
the Gold Coast. Those writers are in error who call the Dahoman
tongue " Ewe."
2 In their vernacular, Danh-ho-men-nun is a Dahome man, a
Dahoman. The w,ord Dahome is applied first and primarily to the
old palace : secondly, to the capital, Agbome : thirdly, to the whole
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 107
in a house by the king and old Blanco, as soon as the cry
of war came," the white man narrowly escaped the death
which hundreds found in the flames. A fellow hauled
him over the wall, and he was carried through the town
to the king's quarters, where the general was, and though
that officer was in a great hurry, and flushed with victory,
he took the stranger kindly by the hand, and gave him a
dram, "which was some comfort to him." \Yhen Mr.
Lambe went out, "there was no stirring for bodies with-
out heads, and had it rained blood, it could not have lain
thicker on the ground," whilst the slaves were being
counted by giving a "bouge 1 " to each. After this he
was led by the conqueror to the capital. He appears to
have been a poor-spirited thing ; he whines, curlike, about
his confinement, and he is not ashamed to write to the
English governor at Whydah, " If there is any cast-off
women, either white or mulatto, that can be persuaded
to come to this country, either to be the king's wife or
else practise her old trade, I should gain his majesty's
heart entirely by it, and he will believe anything I say
about my going and returning again with more white men
from the Company. 2 "
One of Agaja's "strong names" or titles is Allada
Kho, or Lord of Allada. The town, however, once said
to be nine miles round, never recovered after the dreadful
1 A corruption of the Portuguese " buso." cowrie. The names
used by Mr. Lambe and his contemporaries for measures of shells,
40 Bouges = i Toky (or Toki), i.e., a string.
5 Toky = i Gallinha (because it was the price of a fowl), corre-
sponding with our " bunch."
5 Gallinhas = i Ackey, then worth as. 6d.
4 Ackeys = i Grand Cabess (i.e., Cabeca or head), worth IDS.
It is a pleasant money, requiring a man to carry 2.
2 Even in West Africa the new American doctrine of mis-
cegenation, in which the white woman must succumb to the
" splendours of imperial (negro) manhood," though at times prac-
tised by the vilest of slavers, has been ever generally despised.
io8 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
slaughter of its inhabitants, and, unlike Whydah, quietly
submitted to incorporation with Dahome. It is now a
large market, and a village more important than Toli,
but nothing more.
Allada is well situated on a platform, and its climate
is comparatively salubrious. Drinking water is said to be
procurable, after half-an-hour's walk, from a deep hollow
to the east and south-east ; it is not only plentiful, but
sweeter and clearer than any found between Whydah and
Agbome. The stranger, however, must obtain royal per-
mission to visit the place, and will probably fail. There
may be a stream flowing to the Nohwe or Denham Waters,
but the mysterious fetish town, buried in the bush, and
hidden from white eyes, is, I think, a fiction of the Eng-
lish fort, Whydah.
Allada is the Tours or the Sienna of Dahome, where
the purest Ffon is spoken. At Agbome the aspirates
and gutturals are exaggerated, the effect, perhaps, of a
colder climate and a more rugged land. Whydah, on the
contrary, unduly softens the articulation ; as in Egypt,
this may be attributed to the damp heat and consequent
languor of the seaboard. At the port town, as may be
imagined, there is a debased European patois. A Whydah
man will say to you, " Nao tern cowries pour choppy
The evening concluded with the usual presents, and
dancing on a very small scale. The caboceers joined
their slaves, hence the polish of these barbarians, com-
pared with our poor churlish clowns. The small boys,
armed with sabre de bois, the v\ivav /xaxaipav mingled
amongst their elders, sans shyness or mauvaise honte, the
Britannic curse. As usual, the dance was all antics,
very excellent fooling. Few people, and no warriors,
appeared. Six weeks afterwards, we learned that a large
body of male and female soldiery, marching to attack
V. From Whydah to Allada, the Half-way House. 109
Jabatan, a frontier town, were lurking behind the palace
The night was calm, clear, and cool, t with an ex-
ceedingly heavy dew. During the day, the trees had
been blackened and the sky speckled by flights of reddish
bats, 1 swarming like gnats or flies. The queer chirp of
these modern pterodactyles, and the melodious gazotiillc-
mtnt* of birds in the brake, awoke us at the earliest dawn.
1 Captain Phillips notices bats the size of a blackbird at Savi.
They abound between Whydah and Agbome ; at the latter place
they always flew from north to south over our heads about an hour
before sunset. The Egbas have a distinct word for fruit eaten by
bats, showing that the animal extends through Southern Yoruba.
It is a fine large species, two feet across the wings, and is very
lengthily described by Mr. Duncan, vol. i. pp. 129-131.
2 This is a French word, but I cannot help it let reviewers say
what they will. The sound of z in the song of West African birds is
salient; our insipid "warbling" is tolerable and not to be endured.
I distinctly deny that English or any other language contains all the
desirable shades of expression ; and I cannot see why, in these days,
when French is familiar to us as in the times of \Villiam the Con-
queror, we should be condemned for borrowing from it. " Rot your
Italianos ; I loves a simple English ballad," appears to underlie the
FROM ALLADA TO AGRIME.
EARLY on December i6th, we were walking the wet
path. A little to the north of Allada, and to the left of
the road, lies almost buried in grass, under a tall tree,
the so-called "battery," a row of twenty-eight guns.
*They are " all dismounted and much out of kelter " : fifteen
are ship's swivels, the others are long carronades, rusty and
neglected, with their muzzles resting upon rough logs.
This is the more curious as the Dahomans have made, I
am told, tolerable gun-carriages. The cleared and open
highway was well travelled over ; the sides, alternately
grassy and bushy, had been burnt during the "dries, 1 "
and the maize-crops were finer than those near the sea.
The undergrowth of herbaceous plants rendering the
forest unpierceable, reminded me of the inner Gaboon
country. After a fair stretch of level, we arrived at a
" halfway house," called Atto-gon Monkey's Place.
The old chief, Atto, the Monkey, gave us the custom-
ary muddy water, oranges, papaws, and lean but ex-
ceedingly tough fowls : here, as in Eastern Africa, the
aged and masculine are preferred, as having a higher
flavour and offering harder work to the masticators.
Another short hour through a denser jungle than
i The firing month is February, when the conflagrations some-
times scorch and scathe the lower bows of the gigantic trees. The
operation seems here, as in Fernando Po, to enliven them, and a
brighter green follows the injury.
VI. From Allada to A grime. in
before, with occasional clearings, where the sun, which
had dispersed the mists, broiled our backs, 1 placed us at
Henvi Asinhwi Henvi of the hand-clapping. It is re-
lated that when Agaja, the Conqueror, left Henvi proper
to attack Whydah, he halted on this spot, then a "bush."
A messenger arrived and recalled him to his mother's
funeral. Leaving the dead to bury their dead, he smote
his palms together in token of grief, and ordered " Henvi
of the hand-clapping" to be built in memoriam. It is a
very small market upon, and a little village to the right
of, the road. Though only a single pair of warrior
dancers appeared, we were obliged by civility to descend
from our hammocks, and to receive from the chief Atakpa
the customary gifts.
After another mile we enter Hen-vi " Hold the
child" so called because, like Sienna in Tuscany, it is
supposed to open its heart wider than its gates. It is
also known as Henvi Do-vo (vaw), or Henvi the Red-
walled, and our " blind travellers " have corrupted it to
Hawee or Havee. Like all those towns between Allada
and the capital, it has its tattered "palace," and a fetish-
house in somewhat better preservation. A tolerable-
sized village, and surrounded by giant trees, it looked
pleasant and cool, though the sky was bathed in the burn-
ing light of the tropical sun. There is a market, but the
water is bad and dear, and provisions are so scarce that
the price of the leanest chicken is two shillings. There
is, however, tolerable palm-wine brought from the bush.
At Henvi sets off the north-western road, which, when the
Agrime swamp is bad, leads to the capital : it is, as will
be seen, longer, but easier.
We placed our stools next a tree opposite the large
gateway of the royal abode, and were entertained with the
usual dance. Here, however, there was something of
i The open country near Allada is the hottest part of the march ;
it is a sensible relief to plunge into the forest.
ii2 A Mission to Gelde, King of Dahome.
novelty, the first of the " Amazons " made their appear-
ance. The four soldieresses were armed with muskets,
and habited in tunics and white calottes, with two blue
patches, meant for crocodiles. They were commanded by
an old woman in a man's straw hat, a green waistcoat, a
white shirt, put on like the breeches of the good King
Dagobert a Venvers a blue waist-cloth, and a sash of
white calico. The virago directed the dance and song
with an iron ferrule, and her head was shaded by way of
umbrella, with a peculiar shrub, called on the Gold Coast
" God's Tree. 1 " The few men showed us some attempts
at tumbling and walking upon their hands. Two of the
women dancers were of abnormal size, nearly six feet tall,
and of proportional breadth, whilst generally the men
were smooth, full-breasted, round-limbed, and effeminate-
looking. Such, on the other hand, was the size of the
female skeleton, and the muscular development of the
frame, that in many cases femineity could be detected
only by the bosom. I have no doubt that this physical
superiority of the " working sex," led in the Popo and
Dahoman race to the employment of women as fighters. 2
They are the domestic servants, the ploughboys, and the
porters, and Gallegos, the field hands, and market cattle
of the nation, why should they not also be soldiers ? In
other matters they are by no means companions meet for
men : the latter show a dawn of the intellectual, whilst
the former is purely animal bestial. Hence, according
to some, the inordinate polygamy of the race. " r
After breakfasting in the house of a good old man,
one of the local Buko-no, or Diviners, we bade adieu to
Henvi of the Red walls. In places the path was girt with
an impenetrable herbaceous growth, in others there rose
1 Yammi Dueh. Its prickly stem throws off at the summit three
leafy shoots ; the old Portuguese utilized this vegetable bizarrerie as
St. Patrick is said to have done with the shamrock.
2 In the Bonny River the women appear to me larger than men.
VI. From Allada to A grime. 113
on either hand noble hedges of forest trees : here the wintry
leaves still strewed the ground, there the jungle waxed
thinner, suggesting the possibility of passage. Amongst
the long white llianas, some thick as a man's leg, and
bracing down Cotton-woods eighty feet high, I thought to
recognise the gum-elastic creeper : the Europeans, how-
ever, speak only of a ficus which supplies a kind of a caout-
A short hour placed us at Whe-gbo, a small place on
the right of the road. My interpreters explained the name
thus. On this spot the three royal brothers of Allada
disputed long and fierily about each one's chance of bein^ r
the greatest. As the question could not be settled, a
councillor cried out, " No one can decide (whe) a palaver
so great (gbo)." Upon that ground the present hamlet is
When we had disposed ourselves under the fig and
fetish trees abounding at Whe-gbo, the war-chief Suzakon
danced at the head of his half-a-dozen fellows, and waxed
inordinately fierce. It is not a little startling to see how
suddenly, the war-dress doffed, these ruffling heroes sub-
side into the servile and timid " nigger." Though the
little knot of FalstafTs recruits knew not how decently to
cut off an imaginary head, their great captain boasted
that the next month would see him in Abeokuta. An
exceedingly fat old woman joined her confrere in the
improvise song, and professed her readiness to do or die by
his side*':* we shook our heads gravely, and the bystanders
roared with laughter. When the Ajablaku or civilian -
chief had made his present, we urged on the hammock -
men, who were becoming frantic for Ahan, their rum.
Noon had sped before we left Whe-gbo. The trees
became even more gigantic than before, and presently
we fell into a long descent ; it is the second step, Azohwe
being the first. After two hours we reached Akpwe, at
the southern extremity of the Great Swamp.
VOL. i. 8
ii A A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
Its name is explained to be the fetish or supernatural
part of the Loko or " Sauce-wood " tree. In old times it
belonged to a people called Aizoh, who, until conquered
by Dahome, extended from near Agrime to Toli, and from
this place westwards to Toffo, 1 where they are mixed with
the Ffons. It contains a royal palace, or rather precincts
of a guttered tumble-down wall, with a barn-like shed
built over the gate, where travellers may rest. We went
to the house of the chief, who, not expecting us, had
refused admission to our men. The poorest market on
the road was found at Akpwe. As we near the capital
the population becomes thinner, and the display less,
whilst a dozen women and children are seen for every one
man. The principal performers in the dance were our
On December lyth, almost before the birds had
begun their matins, we arose and sent forward our
fellows : this morning we were to cross the Marsh, the
terror of travellers during the wet season. The people
term it " Ko," the Swamp, which appears to be a proper
name, as a common bog is called " Agbaba." The Euro-
peans know it by the Portuguese word, " Lama " mire
or mud. For better distinction I propose to name it the
"Agrime Swamp." This northern limit separated the
old kingdom, Allada, from the original Dahome. To
the latter it is still an important strategical point moating
it to the south : at certain seasons it would be almost
impossible for the lightest of field artillery to cross it. 2
The marshy forest forms a zone said to cut through
Dahome from the lagoon of Hwebonu (Porto Novo) east-
ward, to that of Porto Seguro on the west. Travellers
differ about its course, and many declare it to be stagnant.
On the western road, however, I found it distinctly
i For a short account of Toffo, see chapter xxiv.
2. North of Agrime the heaviest battering train would find no
difficulty till it reaches the Makhi mountains.
VI. From Allada to A grime. 115
draining to the west, and I therefore conclude that it feeds
the Haho, Avon, or Porto Seguro Water. From
December till June it may he crossed in two to three
hours, and thus its breacjth may be six to seven miles.
Between July and November it is a severe task : visitors
to the King have spent two days of continuous toil with
tin hammock-men who 'were up to their armpits in water,
to their calves in mire, and subject to perpetual tripping
by the network of tree-roots catching their feet. The
present has been an unusually dry year : we shall traverse
the greater part without knowing it.
Whilst all was en grisaille, we struck, staff in hand,
through the "dismal forest," as old writers call it. The
hammock became useless, the mud, hard-caked like that
frozen by a German winter, wounds the feet of the
bearers ; they march at the rate of one mile an hour, and
the frequent irregularities of the surface make them sidle
into the bush, where tree stubs abound, and where falls
are imminent. The path was tortuous, but easy to a
walker, and hardly anywhere impassable to an American
light waggon. The sixth King Sinmenkpen (our
Adahoonzou II., 1774-1789) was the Macadam of
Dahome. Resolving to make the " Ko" passable to his
strangers, he handed over a string, ten yards long, to
each caboceer, a significant hint. This passage, we are
told, cost incredible labour and fatigue before the hurdle
bridges over the swamps were widened and the gullies
were filled up. There were two depressions of black mud,
decayed vegetation, and beyond those points the surface,
though caked and cracked, was of lighter hue; its general
unevenness told its difficulty during the rains. The only
fetor in the bush was that of the large black ant, which
suggests that a corpse is hidden behind every tree. 1
The road was crowded with porters, hastening up to
i The experiments made by Mr. Duncan tend to show that the
smell emitted by this species of ant is a poison to other insects.
n6 A Mission to Gelele, King of Da home.
the Customs. After every 100 or 200 yards were dwarf
thatches containing travellers' bedsteads, rough branches
laid on cross-bars supported by forked uprights, and all in
ruinous state. These were the jremnants of huts used by
the soldiery when firing to Whydah. 1 At the half-way
house, Wondonun, 2 we found by the aneroid that we had
descended from 417 to within 134 feet of sea-level, ex-
plaining the Swamp's stagnancy. The little village is in
a kind of island, which never floods ; it has, however, a
temporary and a miserable look. Around it is a wild and
wiry grass showing old husbandry, and extensive planta-
tions of plantain.
We ranged our chairs under an open shed in the
market-place of Wondonun, and were not excused the
usual infliction. The single white umbrella there present
mustered his corps de ballet with two separate rings of
different sexes. And we had the politeness to look on for
Whilst the sun was still young, we left Wondonun,
and struck once more into the bush ; the ground, though
hard and flakey, was level, and presently tall black ant-
hills showed that we had reached the northern edge of the
swamp, where water does not regularly extend. A long
hour placed us at Aiveji, 3 where drink and another dance
awaited us. The soil from black mud had become white
sand, and presently it assumed the normal red tinge.
The surface was grass, burned in places : high and lush,
it showed that the land had long lain fallow ; the later
cultivation was denoted by finer and thinner wild growths.
Aiveji is a little village of thatch, almost buried in dense
1 See, for a description of this ceremony, chapter xxii.
2 Interpreted to mean a place where some monstrous prodigy was
produced from won ("portent" or "bad thing," as, for instance, a
child born with teeth, or speaking prematurely) and Do-nun (s.s. as
do kho, i.e., speak palaver).
3 'Ai' (ground), Ve (red thing), and Ji (on) : it is so called because
built on red soil.
VI. From Allada to A grime. 117
verdure, and near the road was a scatter of tattered
hovels, the "khambi" or grass camp of the East African
Excusing ourselves from halting in the heat of the
sun, we passed on to Agrime, the end of this stage.
The level differs little from that of Wondonun: \vc art-
still but 232 feet above the sea. Here, however, we
strike the "true Coast" of Africa; the alternate dunes
and morasses disappear for a regular and northerly in-
clination, whilst pebbles are now mixed with grass, shells,
and broken palm-nuts, to temper the house swish. The
stones, all rounded and water-washed, contained a large
proportion of iron, and a smaller quantity of copper.
Some Europeans declare that they have found traces of
gold, 1 especially in the pottery: I saw nothing but an
abundance of mica.' J Other have gone so far as to say
that the King, like his father, is aware of the precious
metal existing in that portion of the "Kong Mountains"
which subtends the north of Dahome, and that this is his
reason for barring the road to travellers. 3 Others more
1 Barbot. Book IV., chap. i.. speaks of the "country of Tafou, in
which are said to be mines of gold " ; but he clearly did not know
its whereabouts. According to Mr. Duncan (vol. ii.. p. 307), \i,n\(\ is
as plentiful in Dahome as in Ashanti ; but it is quite superseded by
the slave-trade. No one believes him. It is not a little curious that
these people, like the Mandengas, the Fanti of the Gold Coast, and
the natives of the Gaboon river, call gold " Sika." Mr. R. Bruce
Walker, now of Lagos, informs me that, "At R. Frisco, near ('
Lahou, which is the most westerly point on the West African coast.
when gold is found, the people call it Asika." All these dialects
being totally different, the word must have been borrowed by one
tribe from the other, suggesting that all do not produce the metal,
("an it be connected with the Asiatic " Sikkeh " ?
2 The pottery made at Agbome glitters with mica, and these
"paillettes" have probably imposed upon the credulous.
3 According to the apocryphal M. Wallon, King Gezo used to
say that the mountains north of his kingdom produced gold, but
that he preferred the cowrie currency, as with it there could be no
n8 A Mission to Gel 'el 'e, King of Da home.
reasonably opine that such a secret could not possibly be
kept, especially when so many Gold Coast men are in the
country; and, moreover, that the Dahomans are not such
fools as to leave gold undug.
Agrimen "In the wall" derives its name from an
old legend. When Jemeken was the chief, it was pre-
dicted to him that his wall must shake unless he daily
"ate" (i.e., exacted as a tax upon goods passing the place)
a "kene" and a "tene" (160 and 9) of cowries. When
the King is in country quarters at Kana, strangers halt
here, send forward their message-canes, and request per-
mission to advance. We were received with the usual
ceremony, a single soldier being the performer in a circle
of some twenty unarmed squatters. Presently a mes-
senger informed us that we were not wanted till the
morrow. We spread the table under a thick orange-tree,
and strewed it with wild mangoes, smelling like apples,
and with cocoas, which extend as far as Agbome; the
pineapple here, as at the capital, was found in a savage
state, and without fruit. Our beds were hung in a new
mud-house, lately built inside the royal precincts for the
use of white travellers. "The place is one of dignity;
we were soon informed that it is not "etiquette" to follow
any walk where we could be sighted by "King's wives."
A large cynocephalus, a ground-pig, and divers interesting
muscicapae were to be seen in the maize, but could not
be shot, being in the King's palace. These ridiculous
pretensions are doubtless invented by petty captains four
se faire valoir. Unfortunately white visitors, from French-
men to Brazilians, have ever endured this bullying without
forgery; moreover, no man could be secretly rich. At present, when
doubloons are paid for slaves, the monarch monopolises all the gold
in the country. The last haul of doubloons was made by H.M.S.
Prometheus, who found /8ooo stowed away in soap bars. Since
that time, specie is brought out in the mail steamers, and bills are
drawn on Messrs. L i and Co., L'pool.
VI. From Alltida to A grime. 119
a murmur, and now the stain is hardly delible from the
black mind. 1
This chapter may conclude with a few remarks touch-
ing the route travelled over.
The aspect of the country confirms the general im-
pression that the Dahomans were, for negroes, an indus-
trious race, till demoralized by slave hunts and by long
predatory wars. The land has at no distant period been
well cleared, and it is still easy to reclaim, though in time
the fallows will be again afforested. Others opine that it
has of late been the royal policy to gird the capital with
a desert, as the surest defence against invaders.
However that may be, Africa, as far as I know her,
shows few such ruined regions as that viewed during the
last four days. The scantiness of the population, and the
disproportion of women and children to adult males,
strike every eye. The hackneyed excuse is that there is
a general muster for war or ceremony at the capital : the
fact is that, beyond a few towns in which there is cen-
tralization, the country is a luxuriant wilderness.
On the Gold Coast, and about the Gaboon River and
the South Coast, even a peasant will have his 'chair,
table, cot, and perhaps boxes, for goods. Here he never
dreams of such ownership. The cause is, of course, the
ruler, who by spiritual advice acts upon the principle
that iron-handed tyranny is necessary to curb his unruly
subjects, and to spare him the painful necessity of inflict-
ing upon them death or the "middle passage" the
Hamitic form of transportation. More to make them
feel his power than to ameliorate their condition, he will
not allow them to cultivate around Whydah coffee and
sugar-cane, rice and tobacco, which at times have been
found to succeed.' 2 Similarly King Gezo stringently pro-
1 The caboceer of Allada objected to Mr. Duncan measuring a
cotton tree without the King's leave.
2 Mr. James, thinking the tea-plant indigenous to Dahome, en-
deavoured to cultivate it, and of course failed.
I2O A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
hibited the growth of ground-nuts, except for purely
domestic purposes. A caboceer may not alter his house,
wear European shoes, 1 employ a spittoon-holder, carry an
umbrella without leave, spread over his bed a counter-
pane, which comfort is confined to princes, mount a
hammock, or use a chair in his own home ; and if he sits
at meat with a white, he must not touch knife or fork. 2
Only "a man of puncto " may whitewash the interior of his
house at Agbome, and the vulgar must refrain from this,
as well as from the sister-luxury of plank or board doors.
And so in everything.
* * * * * *
It was a lovely evening at Agrime, ushering in a
cool clear night ; the atmosphere told us that we had
changed the false for the true tropical Africa, the
swampy outskirt for the hard hem of the rich garment.
The moon shone brightly, exciting the hyaena, and induc-
ing from the frogs many a /Spc/ceice/ce^, Kt>a, *oa. Un-
usually distinct was that dark mysterious oval which
sailoring men call the " coalsack," and our " jungle clock,"
of which Dante sang
" lo mi volsi a man destra e posi mente
Al altro polo, e vidi quattro stelle
Non criste mai fuorch' alia prirna gente."
It may savour of heresy to say so, but I confess never
to have discovered the charms of this useful but homely
constellation. When the major axis of the Southern
Cross is perpendicular, the form resembles that of a boy's
lob-sided kite ; horizontal, it is like a badly-made four-
1 The only shoes permitted are the kind of leather bags called
Imalen fo-kpa, or Moslem slippers, and these cannot be assumed
without royal permission.
2 Formerly caboceers were not allowed to drink out of a glass in
the royal presence ; now the King will even offer it.
SMALL RECEPTION AT AGRIME, AND ARRIVAL AT KANA,
THE KING'S COUNTRY QUARTERS.
ON Friday, the i8th, about mid-afternoon, we were
warned that the royal messenger or escort was approach-
ing. A table was forthwith disposed outside the palace,
opposite some elephant skulls and bones 1 heaped up under
an ayyan, or thunder fetish shrub ; and we ranged our-
selves behind the board. After a few minutes a louden-
ing hum of voices heralded a rush of warriors into the
Uhon-nukon, or cleared space, with its central tree,
fronting the royal abode. Dahomans much affect these
sudden and impetuous movements, which impose upon
the eye, making the few appear many. The flag-bearer
was the first, waving, at the end of the thinnest of staves,
a long calico rag with a preposterous blue anchor. Then,
habited in the war uniform of the " Blue Company,"
dashed a tumultuous column of war-men, four deep and
about eighty in number; followed by two neat kettle-
drums, and all singing the loudest chants. They saluted
us by circumambulating the central tree, defiling before
us from the left with right shoulders forward, jumping,
springing, pretending to fire their weapons, and imitating
all the action of an attack.
i The animal, in 1803, was common throughout the country;
now it is a "curio," having been well-nigh killed out. About three
months before our arrival at Whydah, Mr. Dawson had bought a
pair of tusks, and spoke of the occurrence as rare.
122 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
During this wild " pass round" sundry calabashes of
food, carried on slaves' heads, appeared from our left, and
were displayed in order before us. Meanwhile, behind
the soldiery, in distinct procession, walked the civilians,
seven married men preceded by a white calico-covered
object which, conspicuously borne aloft on a carrier's
head, announced itself as an old friend, the venerable
liqueur-case of former days. Its damaged front and
broken legs would disgrace an English pot-house ; but
it has been the pride and ornament of the Dahoman Court
for the last half century. Behind it, with much solemnity,
marched Aiseku, a medicine boy of the Meu, or Second
Minister ; and after him, habited in a shabby paletot of
brown-black alpaca, tomahawk in hand, stalked, with even
greater dignity, Sosu Bleo, politely called Podoji-noto
less courteously, "state-spy" upon the old Buko-no.
The Blues, after grovelling in the dust before the
Sublime Porte, cried out the royal "strong names, 1 "
presented arms to it after their fashion, and formed up
in line before our table. Then the king's canes were,
according to custom, produced from their etuis, and all
admired their novelty. Instead of King Gezo's rococo old
lions, sharks, and crocodiles, we now found out, after some
study, chameleons, parrots, and monkeys half-swallowed
by snakes, the whole ornamented with thin plates of beaten
dollars. 2 I handled them standing and bare-headed, whilst
the messengers prostrated; and in this position the usual
questions, answers, and greetings were exchanged.
The old liqueur-case was uncovered, and, besides the
invariable aqua pura, three case-bottles made their ap-
1 This old Africo- English term is a literal translation of the
Ffon " nyi siyen-siyen."
2 The wood is light, canary-coloured, and pretty much like what
I have seen at Fernando Po. The stick-making industry seems here
to pay : the cheapest specimens cost half a dollar. Before an axe-
edge of iron or silver can be added, the King's permission must be
VII. Reception at A grime, and Arrival at Kana. 123
pearance, with muscadel wine, trade gin, and bad Por-
tuguese ruin. The Dahoman etiquette is to drink thrice
of different liquors: foreseeing much of this kind of thing
I resolved at once to show preference to the muscadel,
and, despite all protestations, to decline the rum.
Whilst we imbibed to the King's health and to my
own, the escort fired salutes; they then grounded arms,
and began the usual "Gillie Callum," their "decapitation
dance." Amongst the knives and tomahawks I remarked
a jambiyah, or Arab side-dagger. The line moved from
side to side, capering and raising the near leg, and at
times all rushed like madmen round the tree. Ensued
solos of three chiefs, and the usual frantic singing and
valour-boasting. After emptying the gin and rum into
the principals, civil and military, I retired. The small
reception ended with the King's dole of provaunt five
calabashes of stews and vegetables, with one pot of good
water. It sufficed for fifty, whereas we had a hundred
mouths to fill; ensued the usual scene of disgusting self-
ishness, the missionary youths, with "Elijah" at their
head, greatly distinguishing themselves.
Nothing could be meaner than the whole display,
which every year grows worse ; Gezo attempted to keep
up state; his son is either unable or unwilling to do so.
When all was over we set out in hammocks, preceded
by the guard firing at spurts carbines and muskets loud
as little mortars, and capering all the way. I have heard
an Englishman doubt the possibility of "polking" from
Dan to Beersheba let him visit Dahome. A delicate
French grey, touched with the lightest pink in the western
sky, told us that the day was dying fast. The soil, before
whitish, again appeared deeply tinged with oxide of iron,
and the vegetation displayed cactus, as well as the acacia
which had characterized the scenery between Agrime and
its swamp. In places it perfumed the atmosphere like
that of the Azbakiyah Gardens at Cairo, where the native
124 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
perfumers extract from the "locust " a faint and peculiarly
oriental perfume appropriately called Fitnah. The land,
seemingly a dead level, had everywhere been burned, and
the lively young grass was sprouting out of death. After
about an hour we halted at a Danh-hwe, or "Rainbow
house, 1 " a little wall-less thatch-slope, like the Australian
"breakwind," in the centre of a dwarf mud wall, circled
with the thunder fetish plant. The head "religious"
attached to the establishment came forth with the usual
ceremonies, presented water to us, begged and received
The next halt was at Zogbodomen, so called from its
chief, who was slain by Dako, 2 the first Dahoman king.
The few miserable thatch huts are shaded by the fleshy-
leaved figs, called on the Gold Coast "Market trees," and
are almost buried during the rains by densest grass, from
which rise the stateliest palmyras. Presently crossing
level ground, with vegetation here tall, there dwarfed;
now green, then brown; we sighted from afar a deep
depression stretching from east to west.
On the farther side of this valley, which during wet
weather must roll in a considerable stream, stands Kana.
I could not but feel, during my former visit, a thrill of
pleasure at the first sight of the "country capital." It is
distinctly Dahome ; and here the traveller expects to look
upon the scenes of barbaric splendour of which all the
world has read. And it has its own beauty: a French
traveller has compared it with the loveliest villages of
fair Provence ; while to Mr. Duncan it suggested "a vast
pleasure-ground, not unlike some part of the Great Park
at Windsor." After impervious but sombre forest, grass-
1 For an account of the rainbow worship, see chap. xvii. Danh,
as has been seen, also means a snake ; but the seaboard god has few
2 Zogbodo also means a woman's top-knot of hair, the Shushah
of the Arab. Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 205) writes Togbado ; not a
misprint, but probably an error of his notes.
VII. Reception at Agriine, and Arrival at Kana. 125
barrens, and the dismal swamps of the path, the eye
revels in these open plateaux: the seducing aspect is
enhanced by scattered plantations of a leek green studding
the slopes, by a background of gigantic forest dwarfing
the nearer palm files, by homesteads buried in cultiva-
tion, and by calabashes and cotton-trees vast as the view,
tempering the fiery summer sun to their subject growths,
and in winter collecting the rains, which would otherwise
bare the newly buried seed. Nor is animal life wanting.
The turkey-buzzard, the kite, and the kestrel soar in the
upper heights; the brightest fly-catchers flit through the
lower strata; the little grey squirrel nimbly climbs his
lofty home, and a fine large spur-fowl cries from the
plantations of maize and cassava.
After two hours of slow travelling we passed the site
of a village now level with the ground : it is called Logo-
zokpota, 1 or the Tortoise's Rise. Here is a detached
thatch which the king visits before beginning his cam-
paigns; and when passing it we were saluted with five
muskets an honour always punctually reported. De-
scending into the depression, we could see the town a
city no longer straggling beyond the northern bank. A
nearer glance at the habitations showed us that they are
those of Whydah and Savi, heaps of haycock huts or
penthouse thatches enclosed in "compounds" of mud
wall or palm-leaf, and jealously detached. There is pal-
pably more field than habitation, and far more fallow than
At this point we reach a trivia. Two paths setting
to the N.N.W. lead to the town; the south-eastern is in
the direction of the king's drinking water, called Hanan.
I afterwards visited it. A well -cleared road leads over
i An iron figure of the Logozo, the land tortoise, or terrapin, is
much used in the Bo-Fetish. The Egbas believe mirage to be caused
by an underground fire with which the tortoise fells the trees. I
could not find the idea in Dahome.
126 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahoine.
several waves of ground, alternately maize-field and palm-
orchard, towards a serpentine line of tall dark trees a
formation ever denoting water in those lands. About half
a mile from the outskirts of Kana places the visitor at
the rivulet; it is a deep ditch, sunk, canal-like, 10 to
12 feet below the ground - surface ; the bed is black with
vegetable humus, and the water after being puddled is
white with clay. The direction is easterly towards the
This streamlet is said to supply during the dry season
all Kana. It is visited throughout the night by the
humbler classes. At the earliest dawn the women slaves
of the palace, 1 who are shut up during the hours of dark-
ness, wend their way in long lines, carrying huge pots on
their heads. They claim the road, which is consequently
provided with a number of foot-made offsets. At the
words, "Gan ja 1 !" "The bell comes!" even if it is
tinkled by a slave girl-child four years old, the native
must throw himself "into the bush," that is to say, out
of the road, and await with averted face till the long train
has passed. If a palace water-pot be broken, the nearest
male would be accused and get into trouble. 3 When out
1 They are not Amazons, as Commodore Wilmot (Appendix iii.)
thinks, but the slaves of the fighting women, who each hold from
one to fifty. When any of the King's wives appear they are pre-
ceded by such attendants, and are accompanied by Amazons, who,
however, carry only their muskets. It is the same with the royal
Fetish women when going to fetch water for the great Nesu ; they
are known by their white raiment and long strings of cowries. On
these occasions the male lieges must run off afar and turn their backs.
Women only clear the way.
2 Gan is any metal ; gan-wi (lit. black metal) specifies iron. The
bell in question is a rude unbrazed affair not unlike that appropriated
to our sheep, and it is carried suspended to a cord round the neck of
the file leader. At the sight of a man it is vigorously shaken up and
down with one hand.
3 The same is the custom amongst the Dembos of the old Congo
empire. A man who refused to quit the path when a chief's wife
approached, or who stood talking with her, would be sold with his
VII. Reception at A grime, and Arrival at Kami. 127
shooting in the morning, we were often called to by these
slaves, telling us not to startle them. The Dahoman
officials show their loyalty by "clearing out" as far and
as fast as possible. If a stranger does only what is strictly
necessary, one woman will say, " He is a white, and knows
no better!" and the other will reply, "And has he no law
in his own land?" The lower, the older, and the uglier
the slave girls are, the louder and longer they tinkle- -
which is natural and almost all of them seemed to
enjoy the ignoble scamper of our interpreters and ham-
mock men, whom the old women order to look the other
way. At times, men and boy water-carriers for the
palace, known by their switches, arrogate to themselves
the same right. This is one of the greatest nuisances in
Oahome: it continues throughout the day; in some parts,
as around the palace, half a mile an hour would be full
speed; and to make way for these animals of burthen,
bought perhaps for a few pence, is, to say the least of it,
by no means decorous.
Continuing our way to the N.W., the next feature
observed was the Gau Nehori, explained to be " Fetish
place, when the Gau or commander-in-chief opens the
campaign" by performing certain ceremonies. It is no-
thing but a long shed with a shady verandah, and a few
huts under a splendid Ficus. A little beyond it, on the
left of the road, is a white clay depression in the grass
a pool during the rains, and in the dries a surface pitted
with empty holes two feet deep this is the Gau-te. 1
Then came the Kana-'gbo-nun, 51 or town gate, consisting
family into slavery : on the other hand, the woman, under pain of
her lord's displeasure, yielded the way to a white man or a black-
white one authorised to wear shoes and other articles of European
1 I could not obtain a reliable translation of this name. Mr.
Beecham rendered it " commander-in-chief's pool."
2 Agbo (with the peculiar "gb" pronounced simultaneously, a
K'ate), and nun (mouth, or side).
128 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
of a pole or two, but warning men that their heads are
within the lion's jaws. The space is open ; there are
two ragged trees on the left ; to the right lie a few small
huts, and a gigantic Bombax denotes from afar the
entrance to Kana.
When the party with much singing and dancing had
been formed up, we were once more allowed to advance.
This time, however, the circuitous official road was pre-
ferred. The large open spaces were crowded with
spectators, whom the bright moonlight enabled to satisfy
their curiosity. On the left lay the blacksmiths' quarter,
dotted with round thatched huts, open at the sides, and
presenting all the appearance of the Central African
smithy. Another half hour being duly wasted, we turned
to the S.W., passed a couple of dwarf temples, when the
impudique Logba looked more priapus-like than any
priapus, and were carried into the " English house,"
whence the crippled old landlord Degen-no 1 came out to
This was a disappointment : although ex-officio guests
of Buko-no, the English landlord, we had looked forward
to the comfortable hall and superior establishment of the
Akho-vi, 2 or Prince Chyudaton, the Lieutenant-Governor
of Whydah. Of course we remonstrated loudly about
the narrowness of our quarters, and we sent a message
to the head doctor, without other result than the usual
" put off." Let no reader of African travel, however,
suppose that anything so noble as jealousy influences
these negro worthies. Their object in securing the guest
is purely and simply for dirty pelf. I have heard and
read much of African hospitality ; but I have never seen
1 A name always given to children that have been sent from
Deadland by their great-grandmothers.
2 Akho, or Akhosu (a king), and Vi (a child, son, or young one).
So " Tom" was known amongst the people as Yewe-no-vi (literally,
godmother-son), young missionary.
VII. Reception at A grime, and Arrival at Kana. 129
a trace of it in the true Hamite. 1 He will take you into
his hut, and will even quarrel with you if you pass him
unvisited : he will supply you with food, and will assure
you that you are monarch of all you survey. But it is
all a sham : he expects a recompense in double and
treble, and if he does not obtain it, his rudeness will be
that of the savage gratte. The self-called "civilized"
negro, like the emancipados of S'a Leone and Fernando
Po, admit you into their houses, and keep you there as at
an inn : they would be equally hurt and offended by your
calling for the bill and by your forgetting to pay exorbit-
antly, but indirectly. The fact is, they would combine
the praise of hospitality with more solid advantages ; and
they do so with the transparent cunning of children.
Such has been my experience in Africa may others have
fared better !
Kana is less correctly written Canna, Cannah, and
even Carnah : the old travellers prefer Calmina, or Cana-
mina, a corruption of Kana-mina, from a palace once
built there, according to "country custom," by one of the
Dahoman kings.' 2 The History declares it to have been
the first place of importance which (about 1620) fell into
1 " The people, I have said already, are void either of sympathy
or gratitude, even in their own families ; and the poor horse is not
held in half so much esteem as the swine, because they cannot eat
it." This is a true remark by Mr. Duncan.
2 "Mina" must not be confounded with Dutch Elmina, on the
Gold Coast ; it refers to Elmina Chica, on the Slave Coast. Locally
all the peoples between Little Popo and Accra are called " Mina."
When Dahoman kings fail to capture an attacked place, they erect at
one of the capitals a palace which is dubbed after the victor, and
this satisfies the vanquished. Hence, because Dahome was de-
feated by Ashanti, the Kumasi palace at Aj^bojiie_jAjas ^added- te-the
glder establishments. Tvir. Duncan errs (vol. ii. p. 274) when stating
oTlhe^lattefr" This palace was built and named about the time
when the present king (Gezo) threw off his allegiance to the kingdom
of Ashantee, the king of which formerly boasted that he could hold
Dahomey in vassalage."
VOL. I. 9
130 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
the hands of the Foys (Ffons), or early Dahomans, by
the assassination of its chief. That authority, however,
uses the word " Calmina," which should evidently be
Kana, the " Mina " being an addition of a later date.
According to Commander Forbes, " Cannah, formerly
capital of Foy, then called Dawee, conquering Agbome,
has retained a peace of upwards of 200 years." This
sentence contains a treble inaccuracy : " Dawee," as has
been seen, should be " Uhwawi" ; secondly, Agbome con-
quered Kana ; and thirdly, they have hardly ever been at
peace till the present century.
As the History proves, Kana was a settlement
claimed of old by the independent "Oyos," or Eyeos, 1
the northern and equestrian Yombas. The Dahomans,
since the days of Agaja (A.D. 1708-1730), agreed to pay
i The word "Eyeo" has greatly vexed West African writers
before the days of Clapperton and Lander. D'Anville uses Gogo ;
Rennell, Gugoo ; Adams (1823) writes it " Hio." The " History of
Dahomey" (1793) gives us Yahoo (from Snelgrave) ; Oyeo and
Okyou (Barbot) ; Eyeo (Dalzel) ; and, in conclusion, they confound
it with Anago, or the Egba country. " Probably this may be the
kingdom of Gago (Kuku, or Gugoo !), which lies to the northward of
Dahomey eight or ten days' journey. The Moorish aspirated sound
of G being nearly like a hard H, as in the word George, spelt jorje by
the Spaniards, and pronounced Horke, or Horche ; whence Gago
may have been sounded Haho, Haiho, or Haiko." Admirable rea-
soning ! Mr. Norris's map places the Ayoes or Eyeos north of
Lagos, which is not far wrong. Bosnian speaks of an invasion of
Ardra, in 1698, by a powerful inland people, which some conjecture
to be the "Eyeos." Oyo (pronounced Awyaw), alias Katanga, was
the capital of Yoruba proper on the northern region, destroyed in
J 835 by the Moslem Fulas, and still, I believe, a heap of ruins.
When the falling structure crumbled, the maritime provinces asserted
their independence, and have ever since preserved it. The History
gives wonderful accounts of Oyo's former power. It frequently sent
forth 100,000 horsemen. The general, it is said, used to spread a
thick buffalo-hide before his tent and make the soldiery pass between
two spears till a hole had been worn in it. When greater under-
takings were in prospect, two hides used thus to be treated.
VII. Reception at Agrime, and Arrival at Kana. 131
to them an annual tribute in November, and the failure
of this subsidy invariably brought on a war. \Yhen
Tegbwesun (the Bossa Ahadee, of our writers), about
1738, refused his contribution, Kana was plundered ; in
I747_the foe retired after being duly satisfied. The Oyos
p must have beenTronfate^oTffe neighbours to Dahome, ever
demanding increase of supplies, interfering in domestic
policy, harassing them by constant wars, and assuring the
Southrons that " Dahome belonged to Hyeo." Mr.
Norris, writing in 1772, shows that ,^he town was in
..but it has doubtless frequently been
taken and retaken.
Early in the present century, King Gezo (who came
to the throne in 1818) seized his opportunity, and after
hard fighting, finally drove out the warlike Oyos, who
were sinking before the Fula or Moslem movement in the
north, 1 and distributed the tribute amongst his people,
one of his proudest achievements. He made Kana a kind
of villagiatum for the Court, free and easy as such country
quarters generally are, and resided in it when his troops
went forth to their lesser wars. The remnant of the Oyo
population was enlisted in his army, and was well-nigh
killed out during the attack upon Abeokuta in 1851.
And that the subjugation of so terrible an enemy might
not be forgotten by his dynasty, Gezo not his son, as
the missionaries believe, then instituted a sacrifice at
Kana, which opens as it were^the cjisforrn of Aghtmfr
The victims are made to personate in dress and avocation
Oyos, a pastoral and agricultural people. 2
1 See "Wanderings in West Africa." Abeokuta, chap. v.
2 It is called Gezo's custom, and is performed at Kana, not at
Agbome. Mr. Bernasko saw it in May, 1863 ; he describes it thus:
" Near the second side of the (palace) wall were eleven platforms,
ejecred on_2gJ^'^a^ut~7o1rTy'feet-44iglr rr^aeh of"Th"ese"was the
dead bodyl>f a man in an erect position, clothed in the native style,
each having in his hand a calabash or similar vessel, filled with oil,
grain, or some other produce of the country. One was represented
132 A Mission to Geleh, King of Dalgome.
There is little to be seen at Kana, a wall-less scatter
of huts and houses, thickening as usual around the palace
and the market-places, and straggling over some three
miles of ground. The population may at usual times
amount to 4000, about one-third that of Whydah. 1 Ac-
cording to some enthusiastic travellers, the cultivation
rivals that of the Chinese; at present all such art has
been lost. The situation is low ; the air hot, humid, and
unwholesome : the sea-breeze somewhat tempers the day,
but the nights are extremely oppressive, and during the
rains, fevers are rife.
About one mile to the south-westward of the English
house is an old palace of a Dahoman king, by some
named Agaja, by others Tegbwesun. It was in poor con-
dition ; in many places the wall was tattered, in others
patched with matting, and the interior was a mass of
bush and jungle. As usual, however, the entrances were
kept in repair, and the ground before them was swept and
sprinkled every morning by slaves established for that
purpose. There is a tradition that the founder of this
decayed palace lies here buried : if so, the remains have
been removed to the great Agbome palace, where there is
a single "family vault."
leading a sheep, also dead. All this was intended to illustrate that
at Canna, of which they (the Dahomans) are now masters, they were
once obliged to pay tribute." The Kana custom is described by Mr.
Duncan, vol. i. p. 219. In his day the bodies had been exposed
about two moons and a half, till the skin, from exposure, had turned
nearly to the colour of that of a white man. " The vulture was in-
dustriously endeavouring to satisfy his appetite, but the heat of the
sun had dried the skin so as to make it impenetrable to his efforts."
i No reliance can be placed upon native or quasi-native estimate
of numbers, especially in towns. The traveller is reduced to the
rude experiment of counting houses, and multiplying by what he
learns to be the average household.
ON Saturday, December igth Ember Day, it will be
remembered we prepared for the penance of reception.
An early visit was paid by the King's chief physician and
archi-magus, Buko-no Uro : a thin, dark, and somewhat
castey-looking senior. He was close shaven, to hide the
frostiness of his wool ; simply clad in white shorts, and in
a large silk cloth with none but the ordinary silver orna-
ments. He looked somewhat leaner than before, prob-
ably the result of his latest nuptials with one of the King's
stalwart daughters. This personage came of course
solely to renew old ties, to apologise for not having built
a proper house, and to enquire about every one's health,
from the most Exalted of the Empire to my humble self.
The real errand at once peeped out: Harpagon 1 wanted
a list of presents, and was especially curious to know
whether various items specified to Commodore Wilmot,
chiefly a carriage and pair, were en route. After reading
out to him the official document touching these matters,
he allowed for a time the subject to lie, resolved to stir it
up again at the earliest opportunity. By way of showing
friendship he announced that our reception would take
place to-day, and that on the morrow we should proceed
i There is this kind of man at every negro court. The " Nar-
rative of the Portuguese Expedition of 1798-99" exactly describes
Buko-no-Uro in the person of " Fumo Anceva," at the Court of the
134 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
to Agbome : he also declared in an off-hand manner that,
even before presentation at the palace, we might walk
about when and where we pleased. Kana, I have said,
is country quarters ; the sort of state imprisonment with
wTn^rrvisifors~are"'rionoured at Agbome, is not the rule
here. He therefore graciously granted us no favour, but
our right, with which he departed, telling us to eat and
dress at once, as the King was preparing for our recep-
I knew well from experience that these ceremonies
never take place, except in some emergency, before the
afternoon. Moreover, it is the first wish of every
Dahoman official to hurry " his strangers " as much as
possible for two reasons. The minor is, that by making
white men, especially in uniform, sit for a few hours in
the open air fronting a mud wall, called a palace, he en-
hances the opinion of his power amongst the people. The
major is, his desire to make favour with the King, who
when issuing from the interior wishes to be received by
the visitors, and looks crookedly at the "minister" if they
be not present. Something must be added on the score
of African brain-looseness : these people have as little
idea of time as of numbers. 1 The stranger, however,
must be prepared to do battle with this nuisance from the
beginning, and the struggle will endure unto the bitter
end, when dismissal brings matters to a crisis. I ended
by proposing that for the future a messenger should be
sent direct by the king, not by the landlord as at present,
to inform visitors that the hour of attendance was at
hand. But, even should this be granted, the messenger
will have, to some extent, the same inducements as has
the landlord in discomforting visitors.
i When Commodore Wilmot was at Agbome he gave silver
watches to many of the chiefs. The main-springs were all broken at
the first opportunity, but they did not the less " sport " these orna-
ments on all public occasions.
VIII. The Procession. 135
Under the then circumstances, So-kun, our guide,
began, about 10 A.M., the systematic African worrying 1 :
it was, however, of no avail, and we put off the evil time
till i P.M., which proved to be only one hour too soon.
The business of the day was to begin with the procession
of caboceers, a ceremony as old as the time of Mr.
Norris, who has left a notice of it. Followed by new and
handsome hammocks, we were conducted to the Gbwe-
hun-'li, a a clear space partially shaded with ragged trees :
it is about 100 paces N.N.E. of the " English House,"
and for many generations it has been the seat of these
operations. Then ranging our sticks facing northwards,
we formed the focus of stare and gaze, the smaller
rabble being as usual conspicuous. Two Klan, or Ai-hun-
da-to, 8 jesters, came up, and in hopes of dole did their
best to amuse us. These African " Sutari" are like the
guiriots or buffoons, those Senegal professionals, who
mingle in every crowd, and whose sole object in life is to
make men laugh. Ever racking their wits to please, they
- evince the true negro poverty of invention : there is a lack
of variety in their tricks which soon renders them lively
as a professionally engaged mourner or a Turkish mute.
Some of them take to the trade early in life, they are in
fact born and hereditary buffoons. They are remarkable
for their ugliness, to which they add by white-washing
face, arms, and legs. The staple of their entertainment
consists in " making faces," as children say, wrinkling
foreheads ; protruding tongues, and clapping jaws like
apes; in a little rude tumbling, 4 in ugly dancing and
1 The African keeps you waiting with an exemplary calme : if
you keep him waiting he shows all the restiveness of a wild animal.
This is generally the case with barbarians ; I have remarked it in the
South of Europe,
2 Meaning bush (gbwe), cotton-tree (hun), road ('li, for ali).
3 Klan is a jester, a clown ; ai (heart), hun (drum), d (play), to
4 The " cartwheel " is here called " alogwe" ; by the Egbas, " okiti."
136 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
agitating the climes, in drawing in the belly to show
emptiness, in smoking a bone or a bit of cassava by way
of pipe, in producing from huge bags l yams and maize
paste, of which they bolted mouthfuls, or by pretending
to be deaf and dumb a favourite trick here. They
offered us some provisions, and we had the laugh against
them by accepting and passing them on to our servants ;
and they imitated my notes by scratching a sweet potato
with a stick. 1 need not add that they are bull beggars all.
Shortly after we had taken our seats appeared, borne
aloft on a negro's head, a table which was fated to be
one of our best friends in Dahome. It was a venerable
article, once intended for cards, but the violent hands of
the negraille had long ago denuded it of green baize, had
stripped off its veneer, and had reduced its single leg to a
singularly smashed and shaky state. A glance at it never
failed to elicit a request for a new " tavo," and a reminder
that the Commodore had promised a remplagant. After
two or three had puzzled their brains for a quarter of an
hour with the intricate problem of opening it, another
would produce from a calico-covered calabash sundry
case and other bottles of gin and similar spirits, some-
times wine, and always tolerably pure water, from the
palace. These elements of endurance were supplied to
us with a praiseworthy regularity : hardly did we take
our seats on any occasion, when lo ! the table. The
King seemed to be pleased by our appreciating the con-
tents of his cellar : he frequently sent us messages bidding
us not to spare them, and, though the Landlord frowned,
I took especial care to make our followers invariably
empty whatever was set before us. As a rule, the whites,
i These wallets are of three kinds : the single bag of skin, called
"glo"; the large double pouch of the same material, known as
" akpataklo " ; and the cloth sack named " vate." The History tells
us that jesters used to amuse Agaja the Conqueror, by swallowing
tubs full of frumenty, and that these men generally stuffed them-
selves to death in a few years.
VIII. The Procession. 137
even the French, and the mulattoes engaged in the comercio,
are so overawed by the presence of one " whose smile is
life and whose frown is death," that they would never
venture upon such a liberty, consequently the King
thinks that they fear him.
Presently a hum of voices from the north answered
the first of the salutes. Under two tent umbrellas, one
virgin-white and the other figured, 1 and accompanied by
two courtiers, walked the bearer of the royal cane, Bosu
Sau. a He is a half-brother to the king ; dark, not ill-
looking, but showing no resemblance to the ruler. Fol-
lowed by his band, drums and rattles, and by his armed
escort, he advanced, snapped fingers with us, and pre-
sented the stick. We drank with him three toasts,
beginning with his master's health. A salute was then
fired, and presently Bosu Sau and his chiefs sat down
upon their tall Gold Coast stools placed on our left, and
thus forming part of an oval opening north, where the
saluters presented themselves.
Then the companies began to pass round, and first
those of Whydah. In all these displays it is "funeral
1 In this land the umbrella is a rude kind of curiologics, faintly
resembling European blazonry, and an armourist could tell the troops
from the flag. In symbolism they precede Mexican writing. The
newly-made caboceer is presented with a virgin-white article of
palace manufacture, and he is expected to illustrate it by his actions.
The principal figures are knives and decapitated heads and faces, cut
out of cloth and sewn on the alternate lappets of the valance. The
knives are straight, and shaped like a butcher's, the handle blue,
the blade red. The face is ruddy, with white eyes ; and the head,
which is clean cut off at the neck, wears an azure cap shaped like the
East Indian ear-cloth.
2 The King's eldest brother, Godo, is never seen in public. A tall,
dark, and unprepossessing man, and a notable drunkard, he was set
aside by his father, who, after the affair at Abeokuta, nominated his
second son, Gelele, as the most likely of the family. In any Asiatic
country such a senior brother would certainly be put to death, and
in many the younger brothers would be either blinded or be rendered
imbecile by medicines. So far Dahome is mild in her manners.
138 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
order," juniors first. A white umbrella, a pair of silver
horns, 1 announced Nulofren, who, habited in the costume
of the day, an armless tunic of red and yellow striped silk,
was bestriding a little nag. After the latter had been led
three times round us with a halter, and the equestrian
had thrice waved hand to us as he passed the opening of
the spectator-ring, he was lifted off by a pair of slaves.
His fifty soldiers then formed line, whilst the commander
advanced and bowed ; he then danced and fired a gun,
the rest presenting arms ; finally, he snapped fingers,
made compliments, and retired to the enjoyment of stool
and umbrella. Such was the programme of the whole
affair, whose resemblance to European tactics suggested
Nulofren was followed by Nuage, of Whydah,
another half-brother of the king, a tall, dark, thin man,
with a chief's silver armlets and thread pigtail depending
down his dorsum. He rode past smoking a pipe.
The third was " the place " meaning a confidential
slave of Wenu, who was unable to be present. He rode
past, waved hands, danced, fired, and took his seat on our
left : not, however, like the caboceers, upon 'a chair.
The fourth was the Prince Chyudaton, a caboceer of
note and influence, one of the King's many cousins, sup-
posed to possess the ear of royalty, and lately appointed
second Yevogan of Whydah. He is a young man, tall
and well-made, of coaly complexion, broad-faced, and
with a prepossessing expression. The English subjects
speak highly of him : the French, whose " landlord " he
is, declare him to be cunning and interested. He cer-
tainly knows the habits of white men, and it was long ago
proposed that he should visit England, the principal
i Many are made of tin. There are two shapes : one, the thimble-
formed, with lateral openings ; the other, somewhat like a small
mushroom or a giraffe's horn, with ridgelets radiating from the
centre of the domelet.
VIII. The Procession. 139
advantage being that after return he might venture upon
the truth, which a meaner man would not dare before
royalty. 1 When this was mentioned to the King, he
readily consented, declaring, however, that he must retain
as hostages Mrs. Bernasko and her children. I much
regretted not seeing more of this young man, but the
jealousy of the " English landlord " managed successfully
to isolate me. On the present occasion Chyudaton was
smoking a bad Bahia cigar, a bit of civilization to be
expected from one so conversant with " European
society " ; he wore a tunic of green silk, and his decoration
was a pair of mushroom horns. He performed the decapi-
tation dance, looking most amiable the while.
The French and English flags, preceding a company
of dancing soldiery, announced the Yevogan, or viceroy of
Whydah. In contrast with his lieutenant, he is the old
school of Gezo's officials, and he is perhaps the worst
type. He was born at the hereditary little village' 2 of his
family, Dokon, about two miles to the east of the Kana
Gate of Agbome. His appearance revolts : it is a com-
pound of a bovine cerebellum, a deeply- wrinkled brow
villainously low, a double prognathousness, massive lips
with bad lines, thickly-lidded, blear and yellow eyes, and
the expression of a satyr. Mr. Duncan found him an
" excellent fellow," which in one sense is true. He is as
bad as he looks, and his avarice is only to be equalled by
his rapacity. If two strangers dispute at Whjdah, 500
dollars for instance being the subject, and the litigants
proceed to the Yevogan for justice, he at once confiscates
half the amount in question to the King, that is to say, to
himself ; and a third quarter will certainly disappear
i As will appear, the highest officials in the land (excepting only
the blood royal) are bond fide slaves to the king, and therefore cannot
say what they please.
2 It consists of a number of thatches enclosed in a clay wall and
surrounded by fine palm plantations.
140 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
amongst the caboceers and Fetishmen. 1 Until lately, he
has, like all the older officials, known white men only as
slavers, and as the most abject order of traders. He
treats everyone with equal superciliousness. This inso-
lence has more than once brought him into trouble, and
in May last he was placed under arrest in his own house
for incivility to strangers. Yet he is ever rude of manner,
and requires to be treated in kind : " civil or rough," as
the occasion requires, but much more of the latter than of
the former. On this occasion he wore, as a white man,
a felt hat, which he doffed to us thrice ; then dancing a
few steps, he came forward to snap fingers, and attempted,
partly in jest but much in earnest, to pull us from our
The caboceers were followed by the companies, of
which the first was that of the Ahanjito or singers and of
the Hunto or drummers ; in fact, the local bards, trouba-
dours, or laureates, who are not less powerful in Dahome
than in other wild lands, from Wales to Nepaul. The
distinguishing mark was the horse-tail "chauri," with
a man's jawbone above the handle. They were pre-
ceded by nine " fancy flags, 2 " adorned with all manner of
1 The consequence is, that white men for the most part, and
black men when they dare, take their own measures at Whydah.
Before my arrival a merchant shipmaster having been robbed by a
mulatto clerk, put him into the hands of a Brazilian slaver. The
latter hung up the culprit by the thumbs and lashed his wrists tight
to a pole, pouring upon them a powdered wood like sand, which
caused the flesh to swell with intolerable pain. It reminded me of
the days of 1724-25, when John Gow, the pirate, would not plead.
"The judge ordered that his thumbs should be squeezed by two men
with a whipcord till it did break, and then it should be doubled till it
did again break, and then laid threefold, and that the executioners
should pull with their whole strength."
2 The favourite ornament of the flag, like the umbrella, is a blue-
handled red-bladed knife on each alternate valance-flap, the other
being occupied by decapitated heads wearing the East Indian kan-
top, or ear-cap, which the Egbos call "filla," having probably
derived it from the Fulas.
VIII. The Procession. 141
figures, animate and inanimate, cut out of coloured cloth
and sewn upon the plain ground. These were followed
by a truly barbarous display : eight human crania dished
up on small wooden bowls like bread-plates, at the top
of very tall poles, a ninth remaining ominously un-
garnished. After passing round in view without um-
brellas, the musical warriors, who are preux chevaliers
and extra-doughty worthies, formed line opposite me,
and waving their "chauris," sang to a pretty tune cer-
tain words in my praise, 1
Burton (pronounced Batumi), he hath seen all the world with
its kings and caboceers :
He now cometh to see Dahome, and he shall see everything
They were dressed in rich silks, and eleven of them wore
horns. After dancing solos they sat down on our right,
where before stood the common herd of gazers, chiefly
Then, preceded by the Union Jack (why ?) and four
flags, came the Akho-'si "King wife," or Eunuch
Company. There were three chiefs, two in black felt and
one in horns ; the corps, however, is no longer distin-
i As these people have no written language, anything that
happens in the kingdom, from the arrival of a stranger to an earth-
quake, is formed into a kind of song, which, rhythmless and rhymeless,
is taught to professional men, and is thus transmitted to posterity.
The stranger, however, may find himself strangely named. European
nomenclature not being pleasant to negro ears and tongues, every
white man in the land has, as on the Gold Coast, a nickname. The
Father Superior of the French mission is known as Nyan gli " Padre
Curto," opposed to a tall brother, Nyan gaga, "Long father."
Another missionary, M. L , being of highly nervous temperament,
was dubbed Penan, or papaw leaf, which resembles the aspen. Mr.
Beecham, being much addicted to meat, and walking about with
rounded shoulders, became Kpon 'akra, the hunchback-vulture. I at
once was known as Kwabna, Tuesday, from landing at Whydah on
that '.day, and afterwards as "Ommoba," from a well-known Fanti
142 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
guished, as in the days of the History, by carrying bright
iron rods. The head man presented the royal stick, where-
upon I rose and drank to the King's health. He then
informed me that he had been commissioned by the Chief
Eunuch, the principal palace dignitary, to guide my
The rest of the pageant was a rapid pass round of the
corps d'eliU. My Blue, or English escort of the last day,
with their Colonel, Anaufen, in a cap of crimson velvet,
followed an unfurled flag, fired, and saluted. The Achi,
or bayoneteers, were headed by their commander in a
man-o'-war's man's cap, about twenty in number ; they
were tall, large, and evidently picked men, dressed in blue
cloth tunics, and armed with heavily loaded guns. They
are recognised by a kind of eye on their conical caps, also
of blue cloth, two horizontal parentheses of white, and a
dark central dot. 1 Followed a few carbineers, whose half-
shaven heads showed them to be slaves of the palace :
they are known as Zo-hu-nun " Fire at the foe's front."
A white flag with a blue anchor at the end of a waving
red stripe, denoted the Gan' u' nlan Company, the
" Conquerors of all animals," so called from the size of
their guns, which are expected to kill, not to wound 2 :
forming part of the artillery with the Agbarya, 3 or
blunderbuss men ; they are chosen for size and strength,
1 The first bayoneteers were organized by the old Meu, or second
minister, in the days of King Gezo : at first they were 200 in number.
The reader will bear in mind that the corps d' elite and the officers in
the Dahoman army are the same amongst the women as amongst the
2 Gan'u (conquering), nlan (any animal). Thus I explain Mr.
Duncan, vol. i. p. 236: "Next came a regiment belonging to a country
called Ginoa, commanded by a female of the same name. This
regiment consisted only of 300 women. This corps make no
prisoners, but kill all."
3 This word must not be confounded with agbaja, a cartridge-box,
which Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 226) erroneously writes agbwadya.
VIII. The Procession. 143
and much prefer themselves to the commonalty of the
army. They followed a tattered Jack and a fancy flag,
and their chiefs bowed to us, whilst the men, resting the
butt upon the ground, fired resonant charges.
At 2 P.M., when the review was over, the Yevogan
again came up, shook hands with us, and preceded by the
most numerous of the companies, his own men, set out
palacewards, leaving us to follow.
All our party then formed file, led by the youth Buko,
carrying the King's cane which had reached us at
Whydah, by So-kun, the English guide, and by the solemn
eunuch De-Adan-de. Mr. Hilton preceded the hammocks
with the flag of St. George, followed by the Reverend
Bernasko, supported on both sides by Beecham and
Valentine. 1 I went next with my armed Krumen in
bright caps and " Pagnes " ; behind me was Mr. Cruik-
shank, then Governor Mark, and lastly the boy Tom.
Between the ceremonial trees of Gbwehun-'li and the
palace of Baynamme, 2 the distance is about a quarter of
an hour in hammocks : the different interruptions multi-
plied it by three ; at every 100 yards a 3-pounder ship's
swivel fired a blank shot, and was carried on the shoulder
of a single porter to the next station. The direction was
north, with a little westing. A broad well-worn and
carefully cleaned road all those about Kana are the same
hard with water-rolled pebbles, wound through grass
plots, scatterings of wild cotton heaps, and tufts of croton
(Croton tiglium) between fields of maize and "thur"
1 Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 216) was "amused by the vanity of the
old governor of Whydah," who showed a great anxiety to precede
him. with a view of showing superiority, and, presently riding up,
ordered to the rear his attendant, who seemed mortified. In Dahome
the introducer precedes the presentee, but not with any idea of
2 Or Banyanyamme, a strong name given by the builder, Gezo,
when he was substituted for his eldest brother. It is not intelligible
to my interpreters.
144 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
(Cajanus indicus), and under the noble trees detaching the
divers homesteads. An abundance of Fetish was also
Presently we struck upon the eastern angle of the
palace. These buildings in Dahome are all made upon
the same pattern : a swish wall of five courses or steps, 1
about 20 ft. high, forms the enceinte ; in many places it
appears ruinous ; it shows patches of matting, and when
new ground is taken in, a fresh palm fence denotes that
labour is deferred to another day. The shape is an
irregular square or broken oblong, and the circumference
must be sufficient to contain the wives, soldieresses, and
female slaves, composing the personnel of the feminine
court. The gates vary in number; they are usually from
eight to ten. They are thatched sheds about 100 ft. long,
built against the clay wall, and 60 ft. to 70 ft. high ;
though the roof ridge is tall enough for two stories, the
deep and solid eaves rest upon posts barely 4 ft. tall,
planted at 14 to 15 ft. from the back wall, and the two
nearest the entrance are provided with earth benches. 2
The slanting roof of thick grass is kept in position by
stout bamboo splints. Inside, the ground is raised about
ift. ; the material is a stiff red loam, in parts rudely
pipeclayed. Outside the entrance there are invariably
two stunted and pollarded trees, here as favourite a fashion
as formerly in France ; and often a pole connecting them
forms a gallows, from which jo-susu, vo-sisa, or Fetish
calabashes, and other talismans depend. Each tree also
has its bundle of Bo-so, or Bo-sticks, 3 truncheons, 3 to
4ft. long, zebra'd or spotted with red and white, and at
1 In Dahome these swish steps are called "ko-hwe." The palace
and the city gates are allowed five ; chiefs have four tall or five short,
and all others three, or as the King directs. The singbome, or
double-storied building, 30 to 40 feet high, and described by old
visitors at Kana, no longer exists.
2 Locally called "Pwe," the Abeokutan "Okpo."
3 For an explanation of the Bo Fetish, see chap. xvii.
VIII. The Procession. 145
times inscribed with Moslem prayers ; they resembled on a
small scale the barber's pole of old England and of modern
America. The external gateways act as guard-houses :
in the interior, as far as can be seen, they correspond with
the external, and the King always receives in these barn-
like sheds. After the fashion of the old Whydah rulers,
he is ever changing his sleeping apartment. 1
After a few minutes we arrived at the Akoreha, 2 or
eastern market, where we were received by a consistory
of Bo Fetishmen ; on their right were holy women in
decent garb, petticoated to the ankles, and distinguished
by flowers in the hair, and by long necklaces of cowries.
The chief carried by way of sceptre a wonderfully-worked
axe of bright brass, called by the people Asiovi, and
known to the Portuguese as Facao de Bo. Lustily
cheered, we passed the several gates of the palace, each
showing from one to three umbrellas of the guard, the
captains on chairs, and the men on the ground sitting
motionless with guns and blunderbusses pointed skywards,
and like a picadil of spears. Turning down another open
space, called Ajyako, we proceeded to the Addogwin, or
western market. I did not recognise a place once familiar
to my eyes : the palace fence of dry brown palm -leaves
had disappeared for a bran-new dark-green matting, and
the form of the clearing had changed : nothing recalled
the old locality but a huge tree on the north side.
When opposite the western or main gate, the usual
large barn-like thatched shed, supported on posts, we
1 The only Englishman known to have been admitted into the
King's sleeping chamber was Mr. Norris, who, in 1773, described it as
a neat detached room, separated from the court in which it stood by
a breast-high wall, the top of which was stuck full of human jaw-
bones. The little area within it was paved with the skulls of
neighbouring princes and chiefs, placed there that the King might
trample upon them.
2 This is said to be a Whydah word, the name of a town "broken "
by one of the elder kings.
VOL. I. 10
146 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
dismounted, as is the custom, to make congees. On the
right were two duck-guns, and a machine infernale with five
bell-mouthed brass barrels, mounted on a dwarf bed, 1 and
with a single flint lock : on the left were four wall-pieces
and one wooden case, which was probably empty.
Twenty-four umbrellas, ranged in line, covered an equal
number of the highest dignitaries in the empire. A some-
what lengthy description of this place will be required : it
is the fac-simile in male of the feminine palace-interior,
and it represents the soldiery of Dahome, minus the King,
halted or encamped upon the line of march.
The army, or what is nearly synonymous, the nation
of Dahome, is divided, both male and female, into two
wings the Right and the Left. 2 They are so called from
their relative position to the throne, which here was repre-
sented by the entrance dividing the captains and their
retainers into two bodies.
The right or senior wing is commanded, ex-officio t by
the Min-gan, 3 the first of the two great Bonugan or
civilian captains " of the outside." He is, therefore, the
Premier of the empire amongst men 4 ; the she- Min-gan,
being within the palace, takes precedence of him. He
leads in the field the first battalion of the right wing, and,
as head of the police, he is supposed to speak from ,Jt]je_,
i. Apparently a favourite old weapon. Mr. Norris mentions, in
1772, a " blunderbuss with five barrels."
2 There are no regiments, properly so-called, as supposed by Mr.
3 Said to mean " We are all captains." The word is variously
spelt Miegan, Minghan, and by the History, Tamegan. The Abeo-
kutans call him the " Otton."
4 M. Wallon erroneously ranks the Mingan after the Meu. He
makes the same mistake in saying that the Gau and the Po-su are
equal. Mr. Duncan (p. 231) casually alludes to the "Me-gah, the
King's principal jailer," and as wrongly tells us " the higher officers
of the household are allowed to adopt their official titles as their
family names (N.B., there is none), Mayho (for "the Meu") being in
the Dahoman language, Prime Minister."
VIII. The Procession. 147
people tojthe I^ing. Being executeur des hautes oeuvres, he is \
also entitled " Men-wu-to, or man-slayer" ; and, as he kills +
for the king proper, in the case of sacrificial or distinguished
deaths he is expected to use his own hands, leaving the
humbler sort to his assistants. The present "A/, de
Dahome " is a tall, dark, thin old man, by no means
decrepid, with a neat and well-made small cranium, but
decidedly the look of a headsman. I have said all Dah- j
oman officials are in double pairs: his lieutenant is the
Adanejan (by the English called " Adonijah "), the
" King's Cousin," and a favourite at court. The woman
Min-gan is Gundeme, 1 and she has an assistant.
Under the Min-gan, or civilian Premier, is thej3au, 2
_pr leader of the second battalion of the right wing, and
military Commander-in-Chief. lie is, in tin- absence of
the Min-gan, the head of the Ahwan-gan, 8 or war captains
of the outside. The present officer is a tall and large old
man, with a wrinkled forehead, nervous and ricketty : it is
almost time that he should " go to sleep." His second in
command is the Matro, brother to the present King.
The corresponding officer amongst the Amazons is known
as Khe-tun-gan, 4 and her deputy is the Zokhenu. 5
The chief civilian Captain of the Left is the Meu,
1 She is thus alluded to by Mr. Duncan, vol. i. p. 248 : " The head
or commander of one of his majesty' s female regiments, named
2 There are many ways of writing this word. Commissioner
Forbes prefers Agaow, M. Wallon, Gao, and the History, Agaow,
with a suspicion of derivation from the Turkish Agha !
3 Ahwan (war), and gan (a captain). This rank includes all
officers that can bring ten to a hundred dependants or slaves into the
4 Meaning Khe (bird), tun (hammering), and gan (metal).
5 The Zoheino of the History.
6 The word is said to mean "his raiment fits him." It is spelt
with more or less error, May ho, Mayjioo, Mahu, Mehou (there is no
aspirate, but a diaeresis), and Mayo. The Egbas of Abeokuta trans-
late the title " Osin."
148 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
who is the 'second subject in the empire. He speaks from
I the King to the people, collects the revenues, receives
V tribute, declares war ~ appoints, according to some, the Gau
and the Po-su, and has the charge of all strangers visiting
the King. He also executes the cjdmirials,of Addo-Kpoiv
the Bush King, an institution which, with the reader's
leave, I will explain at a future time. 1 The present tenant
of office was once celebrated for his memory, and could so
class facts that he never forgot name or event : with the
poor mnemonical aid of a few beans or seeds he managed
the complicated affairs of Dahome. In those days his
power was great, and he required to be bought at a high
price. He is now an old, old man, 2 with hollow cheeks
and toothless gums, which make his mouth appear lipless
the only predicament which produces this phenomenon in
Africa. He easily forgets ; he appears to be half asleep ;
and he is manifestly becoming childish. The King has oc-
casionally hinted at his retirement, but the decrepid senior
clamours to be kept on, declaring, perhaps truly, that do-
nothingness would kill him : his exceeding rapacity and
big eye 3 would, if unglutted, certainly cause his death.
But he has served as a " politic blade " many a king. At
times he waxes bright, and calls to mind the Captain
Springatha so facetiously depicted by the commander of
the " Hannibal of London." His favourite garb is an
unclean shirt, an alpaca jacket worn to rustiness, and
1 Mr. Duncan (vol. i. pp. 250-251), describes a horrible scene "in
which poor old Mayho, who is an excellent man, was the proper exe-
2 Eight years ago, M. Wallon made him ninety. But negro
longevity is very uncertain in these lands, where, to sum up the
almost diabolical wisdom of the white man, people say "He knows
his own age."
3 Covetousness : a common Ffon phrase is, "E su nukun" (he
has a big eye). Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 217), calls him an "excellent
old man, and very different from the generality of uncivilised Africans,
not having that covetous and selfish disposition usual with them."
Now it is notoriously the contrary.
VIII. The Procession. 149
broad silver armlets Mr. Duncan's "silver gauntlets "-
upon the brown sleeves, when he manages to look exceed-
ingly mean. His lieutenant is styled the Bi-wan-ton. 1
Though not of royal blood, he has lately succeeded to the
name and rank of a nephew of the King who debauched
the twin princesses due in marriage to the Min-gan and
the Meu. The culprit is imprisoned, but, as a scion of
royalty, he receives food from his own house, and he is
allowed a single slave. No intercourse with his wives is
permitted. Thus his greatest punishment is what we
administer to our convicts gratis. The corresponding
officer among the Amazons is known as the Akpadume, 2
and her deputy is the Fosupo. 3
Under the Meu, and related to him, as the Gau is to
the Min-gan, ranks the Po-su. 4 He may also be de-
cribed as the head war-man to the Meu, under the Com-
mander-in-Chief. The present incumbent is by no means
of prepossessing presence. He is a youngish warrior,
black, lean, and muscular. The loss of an eye when
Gezo attacked Abeokuta, adds to his scowling look. He
appears ever sick or surly ; and his wool, worn longer
than usual, stands upright in little tufts and pigtails, like
a thrum mop. His lieutenant is the Ahwigbamen, one
of the King's brothers. Under the Po-su ranks the
Ajyaho, the " Jahou " of the History, and there called
" Captain of Horse." Though not a neuter, he is the
chief of the eunuchs, whose offences he punishes. He
swears witnesses, and he has medicines to elicit the
These high officials, the Min-gan and Meu, the Gau
i Bi (all), wan (love), ton (belonging to), meaning that the King's
love is over all those whom he has made.
2. Hence Mr. Duncan's Apadomey regiment, and Apadomey
soldiers (vol. i. pp. 232, 233).
3 The Phussopoh of the History.
4 I have alluded to this dignitary in chapter ii. The name is
written by Commander Forbes, Possoo, and by M. Wallon, Poissou.
150 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
and Po-su, or one of them, failing the Ajyaho, lead the
four battalions which the Dahoman army numbers in
the field. The Amazons are, it has been seen, similarly
The third personage in the realm is the Yevo-gan,
whose functions I have described. By the state law of
Dahome, as at Benin, all men are slaves to the King, and
most women are his wives. The blood-royal is the only
freedom in the country, and it probably does not exceed
two thousand souls.
After the Bonu-gans, the Owu-tu-nun (royal attend-
ants), and the Ahwan-gan, rank the Akhi 'sino, 1 or great
traders, who pay over duties to the King. They are in
fact the "merchant princes" of Dahome, and they cer-
tainly lead a more useful life than the Ahwan-gan, or
military class, which will do nothing but eat and drink,
dance, make war, and attend Customs. In the fifth rank
are the petty governors and captains, to whom the King
gives the insignia and the property of their predecessors,
and who are degraded for the most trifling reasons the
neglect of some ceremonial, or the evil report of a mes-
Returning to the western part of the palace, where
sits the little host of high officials, we find them inspect-
ing their retainers, especially the companies which had
saluted us. These militia troops were marching round,
singing, dancing, firing, and performing other evolutions
distinguished by immense noisiness. We finished in
hammocks our three official tours of the Addogwin
market-place, each time stopping to salute the Sublime
Porte. At 2.45 P.M., after the last salutation, we retired
about a hundred yards, and, facing eastwards, sat down
till summoned to "the presence."
The heat was excessive, and the dancers' dust stained
us red. After half-an-hour, a silver bell and pair of
i Akhi (market), si for asi (a wife), no (mother).
VIII. The Procession. 151
horns hurrying up, motioned us to arise and advance.
This person was the To-no-nun, or chief eunuch, whose
functions, including those of his brother official, the Kan-
gbo-de, must, at the risk of wearying the reader, be ex-
plained before I can hope to make the interior of the
palace intelligible. So complicated are the various
offices and the ceremonious receptions amongst these
people, who own no other study in life !
The To-no-nun 1 is the chief of the Owu-tu-nun,' J or
body attendants upon the sovereign, the others being the
Binazun, the Buko-no, and their followers. This head
eunuch is the fourth personage in the realm royalty not
included. He is the minister of the palace interior,
beyond which his authority does not extend ; he attends
the King's person, and on great occasions he interprets
between the women officers and strangers. Outside, he
commands the corp of eunuchs, who have an especial
residence in the city. During the late Gezo's reign, he
was on great occasions the organ of communication
between his master and the Meu ; it was also his duty to
rinse out the glasses in which toasts were drunk, and to
swallow the water, a custom now obsolete. The present
incumbent is very old, with a peculiarly baboon-like
countenance, and it is hardly possible to distinguish
him from a senior of the other sex. He affects silver
horns and a blue broadcloth long coat, of quasi- European
cut, which, trivial as the comparison may appear, forces
upon the mind the idea of a magnified blue-bottle fly ;
and he loves to buzz about as fast as his emaciated limbs
can carry him. He had a narrow escape at the accession
of the present ruler : properly speaking, he should have
i To (town), no (mother), nun (mouth), meaning that all must
obey him. Commissioner Forbes writes the word Toononoo, and M.
Wallon, who understood even less of the language, Tolonnou.
2 From Owu (a body). These personal attendants are entirely dis-
tinct from the warriors.
152 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
accompanied his liege lord to Deadland. Gezo, however,
left express orders that he must be spared, lest, in the
hands of a young and inexperienced king, the ceremonial
of the Dahoman Court might suffer let or change. He is
now safe, as he is held to have been re-emplaced by the
Gbwe-wedo, 1 who is called To-no-nun or chief eunuch
"for the present King." By the custom of this strange
kingdom there is a chief To-no-nun, eunuchess "of the
inside." She is called the Yavedo, 2 and her second in
command, the sub-To-no-nun for the present King, is
The Kan-gbo-de 3 is another personal attendant,
whose duties, like those of the To-no-nun, do not extend
beyond the palace gates. He is the chief of the royal
huissiers, and inspects the guards at the several en-
trances. He wears round his neck a large silver bell,
and his attendants have similar but smaller articles, to
proclaim silence before the King speaks : they also pre-
cede the royal steps, to remove any sticks or stones likely
to offend. The late dignitary attached to the old king
used to present strangers ; he was, however, permanently
degraded for wilfully riding on horseback up to the royal
gate. The present holder of the office is a young man,
and his assistant, forming the normal Dahoman " happy
pair," is the Kakokpwe, the dignitary who met us at
Whydah. The chief warrior of the Kan-gbo-de is the
Ko-ko'aje, who, having been captured at the attack on
1 " Otton-iweffa " is the title of the second chief eunuch at Yoru-
2 Ya (they), vedo (think).
3 Kan (rope), 'gbo (cut, or finished), and de (octroi, or town dues).
This is an enigmatical title, after true Dahoman fashion, alluding to
the official having command of the rear guard. When the rope which,
stretched across the road, forms the turnpike of these regions, is re-
moved by the master of the custom-house, all can proceed. Com-
mander Forbes spells the word Camboodee, and M. Wallon translates
it " Grand Chambellan."
VIII. The Procession. 153
Abeokuta, was bought by a gentlewoman, and converted
|**in.to a husband and Abeokutan "gentleman." The
Dahomans swear that he must be retaken.
The Bi-na-zon, 1 whom the missionaries, ever thinking
of Pharaoh, call "chief butler" for the worst of all pos-
sible reasons, is the King's head store-keeper. He has
charge of the royal cloth, cowries, and rum, and thus he
corresponds with our "treasurer." He is a subject, and
not of the blood-royal ; but a pleasant fellow withal. The
corresponding officer of the inside, is called the Vi-de-
i Bi (all), na (I), zon (walk).
MARSHALLED by "Silver Bell and Giraffe Horns,"
we entered the royal gate, first removing our swords and
closing our umbrellas, which may not appear before the
King. 1 We were told to walk hurriedly across the nearer
half of the palace yard, and presently we halted at a circle
of pure loose white sand, where the ministers prostrated
themselves silex, not mud, being Court powder for the
great in Dahome. There we doffed hats and caps, and
waving them in the right hand, bowed four several times
to a figure that was sitting under the chiar'oscuro of the
i The King's name in Dahome must be pronounced with bated
breath. For in Dahome the King in his own person absorbs the un-
divided respect of the people. In England we adhere to the princely
Nana Sahib rest unsung,
Let none speak of Badahung,
which is as correctly applied to Gelele as would be " Duke of Clar-
ence " to William IV. after coronation. To utter it in his presence
would, in the case of a subject, be death : once crowned, the King
must forget his antecedents as an Adeling, and this is the copimon
practice of African monarchs, even to the petty chiefs of the Congo.
Many child princes, sons of the actual dynast, have been to my
quarters, and have held out the hand for bread : and such a small boy
the present ruler once was. Dr. M'Leod, however, errs in stating
that the royal relatives, such as half-brothers and sisters, are slaves.
The word Badahung, or Badahong (which M. Wallon writes Buda-
hou, and others Badahou and Badou), is properly Ba (bamboo), do
(pushes or poles), hun (the cause) : it is, therefore, not very dignified.
IX. The Reception. 155
thatch, and was, we were told, returning our compli-
This preliminary over, we were made to advance
very slowly the native officials bending almost double,
and uttering in drawn out unison "a a a !" to warn
the Court that others besides the inmates of the palace
were approaching. A few steps placed us close to the
King, who merits especial notice.
Gelele, 1 also known as Dahome-Dadda the grand-
father of Dahome is in the full vigour of life, from forty
to forty-five, before the days of increasing belly and de-
creasing leg. He looks a king of (negro) men, without
tenderness of heart or weakness of head, and he appears
in form and complexion the KaAA-io-Tos rm/p of this black-
Iliad. His person is athletic, upwards of six feet high,
lithe, agile, thin flanked and broad shouldered, with
muscular limbs, well turned wrists and neat ankles, but
a distinctly cucumber-shaped shin. The skull is rounded
and well set on : the organs of locality stand prominently
out ; a slight baldness appears upon the poll, and the
" regions of cautiousness " are covered by two cockade-
like tufts of hair, mostly worn in Dahome for the purpose
of attaching coral, Popo-beads, or brass and silver cone-
lets. His hair, generally close shaven, is of the pepper-
corn variety, the eyebrows are scant, the beard is thin,
and the moustachios are thinner. He has not his father's
receding forehead, nor the vanishing chin which dis-
i Gelele is, as we often find amongst kingly names in the Hwe-
'gbe-'ajya dynasty of Dahome, the initial word of a phrase Gelele
(bigness), ma nyonzi (with no way of lifting). For the strong names
or titles, the curious reader will consult Appendix iv. As regards
the dynastic name, first assumed by King Aho (Adahoonzou I.), Hwe-
'gbe-'ajya, it corresponds with Osai (Osei) of Ashanti, and may be
broadly compared with the Egyptian Pharaoh. The meaning is,
Hwe (a fish), egbe (will not enter), ajya (a weir), viz., if a fish shun
the trap it will not be caught, so no one can do anything against
156 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
linguistics the multitude : his strong jaw renders the face
indeed "jowly" rather than oval, consequently the ex-
pression is normally hard, though open and not ill-
humoured, whilst the smile which comes out of it is
pleasant. His nails are allowed to attain mandarin-
length 1 : the African king must show that he is an eater
of meat, not of "monkey's food" fruits and vegetables.
Moreover, talons are useful amongst ragouts, in lands
where no man has yet been called fuvcifev. His sub-
tumid lips disclose white, strong, and sound teeth, the
inner surfaces being somewhat blackened by tobacco.
His eyes are red, bleared, and inflamed, betraying an
opacity of the cornea which may end in blindness. An
ophthalmist might here thrive upon the smallest display
of skill. This complaint is not the gift of rum, for the
King is a very moderate drinker, and prefers wines and
beer, of which he has an ample store, to rum and gin.
The glare of the country, the Harmattan winds, the ex-
posure during the long reception hours, perpetual smok-
ing, and lastly, a somewhat excessive devotion to Venus,
are the causes. The nose is distinctly retrousst, quasi-
negro, anti-aquiline, looking in fact as if all the lines had
been turned the wrong way, this mean and hideous
concave is the African substitute for the beautiful, the
sympathetic, and the noble convexity of the Caucasian,
but it is not much flattened, nor does it wholly want
bridge. The lines of wrinkle subtending the corners of
the mouth are deeply, but not viciously, marked : and the
i This length of talon probably suggested to elder travellers the
idea of a poison-globule stuck under the nail of the little finger,
which was gradually protruded into the calabash or drinking-cup,
when the venom instantly dissolved. Captain Phillips was told by a
caboceer of Whydah, whom he had " well warmed with brandy and
other strong liquors (here the key of most secrets)," that it was
brought from a distant inland country, and that three to four slaves
was the price of a single fatal dose. But brandy has the power of
heating the imagination as well as the other faculties.
IX. The Reception. 157
same may be said concerning the crumpling of the fore-
head during momentary excitement. According to some,
he is afflicted with chronic renal disease. He has suffered
severely from the small-pox the national scourge
which has by no means spared his race. 1 The only
vestage of tattoo is the usual Dahoman mark, three short
parallel and perpendicular lancet cuts, situated nearer
the scalp than the eyebrows, a little above the place
where the latter meet the zygomata.
M. Wallon, who probably never saw the present
ruler, declares that he exactly resembles Gezo, whereas
the latter was extremely dark-complexioned.- Also we
read of his character: "Ruse, tenace et tres dissimule t il cst
aussi plus interesse que son pere, et passe pour ires cruel.''' But
Gelele always disliked and distrusted Frenchmen en
animam et mentem ! There can be no greater contrast
than that between the sovereign and the ignoble-looking
lieges, who, Hindu-like, after a certain age, either shrivel
1 We read in the History that the great Agaja was " pitted with
the small-pox, or perhaps tatooed in imitation of it, as is customary
in the country." And we are especially informed that at Whydah
both sexes thus adorned their cheeks and foreheads a practice now
obsolete. The old Dahoman sign was a perpendicular incision be-
tween the eyebrows : the women marked the lower parts of the body
with various devices. The modern is described in the text. Mr.
Duncan (vol. i. p. 266), wrongly asserts " the Dahomans are not
marked at all, except such marks or tatooing as the parents may
choose to inflict on the lower parts of the person by way of orna-
ment." The Alladas used to make an incision in each cheek, turning
up the flesh towards the ears, and allowing it to heal in that position
a hideous device also forgotten. The sixth king, Sinmenkpen (Ada-
hoonzou II.) died of small-pox in 1789. The late Gezo, after march-
ing on Popo, is said to have fallen from the sequela of the same
terrible disease, which has thus killed two kings out of a total of
2 Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 224) describes Gezo, in 1845, as a " ta ll
athletic man about forty-three years of age (he was older), with pleasing
expression and good features, but the top of his forehead falling back
rather too much to meet the views of a phrenologist."
158 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
to skeletons or distend to treble bulk, and who, though
rarely resembling the typical negro of the text book, 1 are
not unfrequently black as ill-brushed boots. The pure
reddish-brown of his skin, not unlike that of the so-called
copper-coloured Indian, and several shades lighter than
the lightest to be seen at his Court, confirms the general
report that his mother is a slave-girl from the northern
Makhi 2 : others whisper that she is a mulatto from the
French factory, Whydah.
Like Gezo, Gezo's son and heir affects a dress simple
to excess. His head is often bare : on this occasion he
wore a short cylindrical straw cap, with a ribbon-band of
purple velvet round the middle. A Bo-fetish against sick-
ness, in the shape of a human incisor, strung below the
crown, and a single blue Popo-bead, of little value, was
hanging to a thick thread about his neck. Despising the
i The same may be said of the typical John Bull, Johnny Cra-
paud, Paddy, and Brother Jonathan : we have selected an exception,
a caricature. But such negroes do exist : I can point out a Yoruban
family at Lagos which fulfils every external condition of the link be-
tween man and monkey.
2. In Mr. Norris's map the " Mahees" are placed west of Agbome.
Their mountain-lands are to be seen rising due north of the capital :
the tribes in the vicinity are subject to the King, the more distant are
independent, and even court his attacks. Mr. Duncan, the only
white man who explored the country, tells us (vol. i. p. 245), that
" Makee is pronounced Mahee in the Kong mountains," and relates
that the Dahomans there took 126 towns, making greater part of the
enemy prisoners. In June, 1863, the army of Dahome, after fourteen
marches, probably short and circuitous, turned round upon a hostile
clan, which defended itself so well that but few were taken. Indeed,
I heard a report at Little Popo that the King had been killed and the
army destroyed by cannon sent up the Volta River. The Makhi are
a well-made and comparatively light-complexioned people. Their tribe
mark is now a black line raised, as amongst the Ejo of Benin, above
the skin, from the hair to the root of the nose, but not extending be-
yond. Formerly they cut three long, oblique marks on one
cheek, and a cross on the other. Their women are prized for matri-
mony : the mother of King Sinmenkpen was a Makhi girl.
IX. The Reception. 159
Bonugan-ton, or broad silver armlets of his caboceers, he
contented himself with a narrow armillary iron ring, of
the kind called "abagan"and "alogan," round his right
arm. Above and below the elbow of the left he wore five
similar bracelets ; these ornaments were apparently in-
vented to save the limb when warding off a sabre-cut-
from the head. The body-cloth was plain fine white stuff,
with a narrow edging of watered green silk and as it sat
loose around the middle, decorum was consulted by
drawers of purple-flowered silk hardly reaching to mid
thigh. The sandals, here an emblem of royalty, showed
some splendour. They were of Moorish shape, with gold
embroidery upon a scarlet ground, two large crosses of
yellow metal being especially conspicuous. Altogether,
the dress, though simple, was effective, and it admirably
set off the manly and stalwart form.
The King was sitting under the deep shade of the
kind of shed-gate before described. His throne, the
" Pwe," or earthbench, on the right of one entering, was
about three feet high, and was strewed with the red, blue,
and striped cotton cloths made in the palace. The two
near posts propping the eaves were swathed with red and
white calicos, whilst the others were chocolate stuff
sprinkled blue. The left elbow of royalty rested upon a
cushion of crimson velvet, with a narrow band of bright
yellow satin and lappets, upon which appeared the royal
emblem, the Cross. The King was smoking the weed in
a long-stemmed silver-mounted article of native manufac-
ture 1 : he manifestly thinks there is nothing melius qtiam
i So Mr. Norris found King Tegbwesun " smoak ing tobacco."
The pipe is an institution in Dahome. Clays from Europe are much
sold, and iron articles are made at home. The usual bowl is of
Agbome manufacture, one of the many monopolies of the royal
wives : it is of reddish or whitish-yellow earth, as usual half-baked
and very brittle. The tube is a sappy stick, somewhat like the salt-
wood of the Benin River, from eight to eighteen inches long, whitened
by peeling, and coloured black in alternate bands. The King's tube
160 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
pipe 0' tobacco, yet this excess one must say must somewhat
militate against his success with the sex.
A throng of unarmed women, the royal spouses, sat
in a semicircle behind the King under the same thatch,
the warrioresses being on stools, or at squat outside, and
through the open entrance slave-girls peeped at the pro-
ceedings. I regret to say that not a pretty face appeared ;
most of the " fair sex " had sooty skins, and the few
browns showed negro features. They atoned for this
homeliness by an extreme devotion to their lord and
master : woman's position on earth, say Easterns, is to
look up to somebody, and these certainly do, so far, their
duty. It is no wonder that the King of Dahome's soul,
like my " Lord Keeper's," lodges well. If perspiration
appears upon the royal brow it is instantly removed with
the softest cloth by the gentlest hands ; if the royal dress
be disarranged, it is at once adjusted ; if the royal lips
move, a plated spittoon, which, when Mr. Norris wrote,
was gold, held by one of the wives, is moved within con-
venient distance ; if the King sneezes, 1 all present touch
and bowl are adorned with silver plates and wire : the old pictures of
Dahome place a Turkish pipe in the royal hand. Here there is
nothing like the art of Ashanti, where the pipe-bowl represents some
queer animal, human or bestial, and the long flexible reed tube, con-
ducing to cool and clean smoking, is tastefully adorned with silver
wire. The pipe, when at rest, is placed in a wooden case, looking
like two hockey-sticks knocked into one, and opening with a slide in
the upper part. The tobacco-pouch is nearly the size of a modern
carpet-bag. It is of goat's skin, tanned after the Yoruban fashion,
and coloured black, with dull red bindings. The interior is divided
into several compartments, and it is usually carried wrapped round
the pipe-case. The Dahomans, even the King, use Brazilian roll and
American leaf : a few prefer the worst kind of cigars.
i In Ffon, " nyin " is a sneeze ; manifestly, like ours, an imitative
word. Almost throughout Africa, there is some superstition con-
nected with this convulsion. In Senaar, courtiers turn the back, and
slap the right thigh. Old authors tell us that when the " King of
Monomotapa " sneezed, it became a national concern. Those nearest
the royal person howled a salutation, which was taken up by the
IX. The Reception. 161
the ground with their foreheads ; if he drinks, every lip
utters an exclamation of blessing. This intense personal
veneration reminded me of the accounts of Mohammed
the apostle and of his followers left by contemporary
writers. But without analyzing too far, I suspect that in
Dahome it is rather the principle than the person that is
respected, the despotism more than the despot, the turband
rather than the wearer : that were the King to be succeeded
on the morrow, the same semi-idolatry would be heaped
upon his successor. However that may be, the Dahoman
King must only condescend to live, all, save what must
necessarily be done by himself, is done for him. Such a
life appears wearisome ; but kings are unlike common men,
and the ways of princes are mysteries to the multitude.
To this exceeding care only can be attributed the pro-
tracted reigns of a dynasty, whose eight members have sat
upon the throne 252 years, thus rivalling the seven Roman
monarchs whose rule extended over nearly the same
period, and has caused them to be held fabulous or
We walked towards the entrance down the clear lane
hedged by squatting Amazons, and we formed up in a
group close to and opposite the King. The Meu, and his
dependent the English landlord, who acted as it were our
sponsors, supported our right, the Yevo-gan and the Junior
Min-gan our left, and all reclined upon the ground in the
position of Romans upon the triclinium.
After the usual quadruple bowings and hand wavings,
the King arose, tucked in his toga, descended from his
estrade, donned his slippers each act being aided by some
dozen nimble feminine fingers and advancing, greeted
antechamber ; and when the horrid cry had run through the palace,
it was re-echoed by the whole city. In Europe the superstition is,
that St. Gregory instituted a benediction upon the sneezer, because
during a certain pestilence the unseemly act was a fatal symptom.
VOL. I. II
1 62 A Mission to Gekh, King of Dahome.
me with sundry vigorous wrings a la John Bull. 1 Still
grasping my hand, he inquired after the health of the
sovereign, the ministry, and the people of England,
which he and his naturally suppose to be a little larger
and a much richer Dahome surrounded by water. He
then asked more particularly concerning the To-ji-'khosu 2
or Commodore, the Gau or Captain Luce, and the Amma-
sin-blu-to or Dr. Haran, his last year's visitors. Gelele
is said to have a right royal recollection of faces, names,
and histories. A long compliment was paid to me upon
my having kept word in returning : I had promised on a
previous occasion to apply for permission to revisit
Dahome, and here to redeem a promise is a thing unknown.
The King frequently afterwards referred to this trifle,
attaching great importance to truth-telling, and assuring
me that it made me his good friend. 3 It reminded me of
Beholde the manne 1 he spake the truthe,
Hee's greater than a kynge 1
He then finally snapped fingers with a will. Mr. Cruik-
shank wore a naval frock, which looked dull near a scarlet
uniform, having no epaulettes ; his accueil was less cere-
1 His father used to affect with Englishmen a "familiar slap on
the back with his open palm."
2 To (water, especially the ocean, a pool, or a stream), ji (upon),
'khosu, for Akhosu by Synalepha (a king). "Gau," I have already
explained. Amma (tree, or other leaf), sin (water, the compound
word leaf- water meaning "medicine"), and blu-to (he who makes).
Amma-bluto, or Amma-sin-blu-to, is the proper name for a doctor or
surgeon ; Amma-sin-kpele is the title of an officer, in whose charge is
placed the King's medicine.
3 Truth, being a peculiarly rare article, is highly valued here.
King Sinmenkpen said to Governor Abson (1803), who, being a resi-
dent of thirty-seven years in the country, had attempted a mild deceit,
that "he wished the Englishman had not been so much of a Dahoman-
man, as to make use of any artifice." I have myself been put to
shame by hearing a Camaroons River chief declare to a Baptist mis-
sionary, who was palpably prevaricating, that had the truth been
told, all would have been well. It must be a curiously self-sufficient
brain that will enter into the lists of lying with an African.
IX. The Reception. 163
monious. Lastly, the Reverend received the greeting of
a friend, and the King, before returning to his seat,
kindly noticed the boy Tom.
Our stools were placed before the throne, and we sat
whilst the materials for health-drinking were taken from
under a red calico cloth which lay upon a ricketty table
near the entrance, with legs once gilt. It is not customary
to address royalty, even though the presentee be
acquainted with the language. 1 The sovereign's words
are spoken to the Meu, who informs the interpreter, who
passes it on to the visitor, and the answer must trickle
back through the same channels. It is evident the King
will never hear anything offensive, and that he will ignore
all beyond his actual inspection. I at once saw the
necessity of attacking the dialect, and, despite the nervous
terrors of the hen-hearted Beecham, who seemed to think
teaching treason, I had the satisfaction, before departure,
of understanding most conversations in Ffon, and of being
able to join in a simple dialogue.
After Sin-diyye ! and Sin-ko ! we drank in three
several liquors to the health of the Sovereign, the Com-
modore and my humble self. After bowing and touching
glasses, the King suddenly wheeled round, whilst two
wives stretched a white calico cloth by way of a screen
before him, and another pair opened small and gaudy
parasols, so as completely to conceal his figure from our
gaze. There was a prodigious outburst of noise. Guns
were fired, "Amazons" tinkled bells, and sprang kra-kra,
or watchmen's rattles, ministers bent to the ground
clapping their palms, and commoners bawled " Po-o-o "
(i.e., " Bleo ! " " Take it easy ! "), cowering to avoid the
dread sight, turning their backs if sitting, and if standing
they danced like bears, or they paddled their hands like
i On the other hand, there is none of the ceremonial absurdity
which compels mere answers to a royal question or remark.
164 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
the forefeet of a swimming dog. We were not expected
to move. 1
After the " toasts," salutes were fired, the first for
royalty ; the second, of eleven guns, for the Commodore ;
and the third, of nine, for myself. I at once objected,
and demanded the same number as my predecessor, and
when Mr. Beecham, who had turned blue, could be
i Africans and some Asiatics are most subject to witchcraft when
eating and drinking ; the Maldivian Islanders, for instance, eat alone
in the recesses of their houses, fearing lest some unlucky cantrip be
played with the victuals. Moreover, in most places, the King is too
great a man to eat, drink, or sleep at all. The origin of the idea is
intelligible : it could not have been imposing to see the august person
of George III. "at dinner on mutton and turnips." Hence the old
kings of France preferred to be served by knights on horseback. The
Alake of Abeokuta must be hidden even whilst he enjoys a. prise. It
was certain death to see the petty King of Loango eat or drink, which
he did in different houses. When the cup was handed to him, an
attendant struck together two iron rods, the thickness of a man's
finger : all who heard it buried their faces in the sand till the sound
ceased, and then clapped hands, and uttered blessings. (Barbot :
Supplement). Also, no one might drink in the presence except by
turning back upon royalty, which is also the case for all but white
men at Dahome. The negroes of "Ardra," we are told, used in
friendship the same cup, showing that the idea of dignity has done
much towards surrounding the act with ceremony. Mr. Ditton has
quoted upon this subject from the description of Henry VII. and
Elizabeth of York's coronation : first, " The Lady Elizabeth Grey
and Mistress Ditton went under the table and sat at the Queen's feet,
and the Countesses of Oxford and Rivers knelt on each side, and
now and then held a kerchief before her Grace ; and after the feast
the Queen departed with God's blessing, and the rejoicing of many a
true English heart." (Leland's " Collectanea," vol. iv. pp. 216-233).
On the other hand, Mr. Jas. W. Smith cites Stowe's Chronicles :
"On the right side of her (Queen Anne Boleyn's) chair, stood the
Countess of Oxford, widow, and on her left hand stood the Countess
of Worcester, all the dinner season, which, divers times in the dinner
time, did hold a fair cloth before the Queen's face when she did list to
spit, or do otherwise at her pleasure ; and at the Queen's feet, all
dinner time, sat two gentlewomen under the table." Amongst some
tribes in the Congo country, the chief's big toes are still pulled when
IX. The Reception. 165
persuaded to interpret my words, the King at unce
ordered two more to be fired, and made excuses for the
mistake. When this was done, we were informed,
according to custom, that another deputation was to be
received. There is no necessity here for backing out of
the presence, the dorsum indeed, when dancing, is pre-
sented to majesty more often than the front. We, there-
fore, turned and moved about 100 feet outside the King's
thatch, to the place where our stools had been ranged
fronting the north. We were thus amongst the caboceers
of the Meu's party about a score on the proper left of
the throne, and with us were the Po-su, or left-hand
Sub-Commander-in-Chief, the two Yevo-gans, and the
English landlord. We were separated from the Min-gan,
the Gau, and the other right-hand chiefs by a few paces,
the prolongation of the clear passage lined with sitting
Amazons, and leading to the throne. Thus the King
could command an uninterrupted view of the bottom of
Here, comfortably established under the gorgeous
tent-canopy, called in Ashanti and Dahome an umbrella,
I produced my adversaria and sketch-books. The King
is always pleased to see this, and his father Gezo, when
visited by Mr. Duncan, sent to the palace for paper that
everything might be described by him 1 : without the aid
of writing it would be impossible to remember half the
complications which occur during these receptions.
More than once in after-times the King sent to me his
compliments and thanks, telling me that no white man
had ever before taken so much trouble, and that everything
should be shown to me. The Pagan African is, in this
point, a great contrast to his more civilised Moslem
brother, and to the wilder tribes of Asia, who fear the pen
as they do the fiend.
I now proceed to portray the salient features of the
i Vol. i. p. 227.
1 66 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
King's levee. It was to me the most interesting scene in
Dahome, showing more of picturesqueness and less of
grotesqueness and tragedy than any other.
The long barn under which Gelele sat was built
against the eastern wall, which was clay ; fresh palm
leaves, matted and planted as a fence, forming the other
three sides of the oblong court. The regularity was
relieved by a few poor sheds, and the only objects of
remark in the yard were the familiar bundles of fetish
sticks and a pollarded tree supporting an earthenware pot,
with two pennons on tall poles. Along the shed, which
was confined to the King and his wives, ran a line of four-
and-twenty umbrellas, forming an extempore verandah.-
Those on the flanks were white, and mostly very ragged,
sheltering the chieftainesses of the she-soldiers : in the
centre, denoting the place where the King sat, they
affected the gaudish tulip tints, dazzling hues, variegated,
yet in perfect harmonies scarlet, tender green, purple,
white, and light blue : an especial favourite was red and
yellow ; it is called in England Satan's livery, but when
massed, it excites the eye. These richly tinted umbrella-
canopies are forbidden to all save royalty, and the King
takes no little pride in them. 1
The only difference between the outer and the inner
court is this the former is a parade of the male, the
latter of the female soldiers, and the first glance shows
that both bodies exactly correspond. Mid-ribs of bamboo-
palm (Raphia vinifera}, in single line, lie on the ground
separating the sexes ; this thin barrier no one is allowed
to pass. The instrument of communication is the
i They are manifestly made upon a European model. Mr.
Duncan, who writes with the simplicity of a child, tells us (vol. ii. p.
271), that the King caused him to enter a memorandum of several
patterns for canopies, desiring him to order a number of them to be
sent from England. At the present moment (August, 1864), one of
these umbrellas may be seen at the rooms of the Royal Geographical
IX. The Reception. 167
Mahaikpa, a princess who has not been seen for two
years, and who consequently may be dead. Below the
throne there is always one of her retainers, the "Dakro,"
a middle-aged woman, formerly attached to Gezo's Court,
and a mighty stickler for ceremony. The Dakro bears
messages from the King to the Meu, who passes on the
words to the Min-gan, whence they find their way to the
many. She walks out of the shed holding a war stick in
her right hand, places it on the earth, kneels close behind
the bamboo line, and resting elbows on thighs, or some-
times with one hand on the ground, whispers her errand,
almost touching heads. As a rule she goes on all fours
to the Meu, and only kneels to smaller men, who become
quadrupeds to her. A favourite gesture with both sexes
here is to smooth the ground before them with one or
both palms, clearing as it were the place for prostration :
it is the whittling of the Yankee, and it serves to conceal
thought. The message is received by the minister in a
similar position, the feet resting upon the toes and the
heels supporting the posteriors. After obtaining the
answer the Dakro rises, returns to within the barn, makes
obeisance, and placing herself on all fours the nearest
approach to our brethren of the field since the days of
Nebuchadnezzar either upon the ground or upon a mat,
before and close to the King, duly delivers it to the royal
ears. Nothing but the prodigious memory for trifles
possessed by this people prevents a communication that
travels so far from losing all its original sense.
Outside the bamboos, divided, as has been said, into
two distinct groups, stand the ministers. All are in their
richest attire, gay with tunics of bright silk and satin.
The Min-gan wears eight necklaces, with a silver orna-
ment like a. fleur-de-lis or trefoil, hanging upon his breast.
The Meu has doffed his alpaca jacket, displays fine and
valuable pink coral in long strings, with thin thread pig-
tails lashed on to them, silver armlets adorned with the
1 68 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
British Lion, and with two quasi-human heads which
may have belonged to William and Mary ; whilst the
emblem of Christianity, in gold, depends from his neck.
But the crucifix is strangely altered, the crucified being a
chameleon, the venerable emblem of the rainbow-god.
This is not done par malice, like the ass placed by the
irreverent caricaturist upon what is, according to Dr.
Rossi, the earliest known cross it is the simple instinct
of a barbarous race. The Adanejan, or assistant Min-
gan, is more than usually gorgeous. He is a huge
Cyclops of a black, with a jetty face, at least one size
larger than his brain-pan, and a faux air de jeune homme,
effected by close shaving his stiff whitey-grey beard and
hair. Though long past "frightful forty," he is much
addicted to women, and he is ever " chaffing " the
Reverend about marrying a daughter to him. A great
trencherman, with a rollicking laugh that quakes his fat
sides, the big eupatrid is of somewhat offensive presence ;
he is moreover a professed beggar, and what meets his
touch never leaves it.
Non fuit Autolyci tarn piceata manus.
The Gau is rendered conspicuous by his big brass bracelets.
The surly Po-su wears four brass rings on his left arm,
and his forehead is always ceremoniously marked with
white sand or red earth. All the lesser fry are clad like
their betters, in tunics of rich native cloth, and orna-
mented with horns, silver bracelets, armlets, crucifixes,
trefoil-shaped articles, and necklaces, of which some wore
as many as ten ; Popo-beads, large and small ; coral, red
and pink ; blue and white glass beads ; green, yellow,
and variegated pottery ; while some have neck-ropes of
black and blue seed beads disposed in patterns.
On the King's proper right, in the ring presided over
by the Khe-tun-gan (female Gau, or Commander-in-Chief),
and outside the big barn, enthroned on a lofty chair, sat
the Akutu ; she is captainess of King Gezo's life-guards,
IX. The Reception. 169
called the 'Mman,or Madmen, the Bashi Buzuks, or Enfans
Perdus of the Dahoman host. This dignitary is a huge old
porpoise, wearing a bonnet shaped like that of a French
cordon bleu, but pink and white below, with two crocodiles
of blue cloth on the top, and the whole confined by silver
horns and their lanyard. To the left of royalty, more in
the open and under a tent-umbrella, upon as tall a seat as
the Akutu enjoyed, is the Humbagi, the corresponding
veteraness on the Meu's side. She is also vast in breadth,
and a hammer-head in silver projecting from her forehead,
gives her the semblance of a unicorn. As a rule the war-
rioresses begin to fatten when their dancing days are
passed, and some of them are prodigies of obesity.
The flower of the host was the mixed company of
young Amazons lately raised by the King ; this corps,
standing to the north of the palace yard, and on the right
of the throne, was evidently composed of the largest and
finest women in the service. Behind it stood its band, a
Chingufu or African cymbal, two small tom-toms held
under the arm, and four kettledrums of sizes, beaten with
hand or stick. The newly-chosen company apparently
contained two hundred, and the whole court certainly did
not show more than one thousand. Some Amazons, how-
ever, are now absent, attacking, I have said, a village in
the Makhi country, which distinguished itself by grossly
insulting the King, by threatening to kill him and his
army. They will have an easy victory. 1
i It seems a peculiarity of climate in those lands, and the History
can supply several instances, that compels individuals and tribes
mortally and wantonly to insult a rancorous and hateful race like
that of Dahome and then entirely to forget the injury, so as to take
no precautions against vengeance. The History tells us that the
people of " Wemey," a petty village near " Porto Novo," that could
perhaps muster one to every hundred Dahoman warriors, sent a
challenge to one of the greatest of the kings, threatening, if not
attacked, to march on Agbome. The king returned, as usual, an
ironical answer, saying that he would soon dispatch his Gau with
i jo A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The gala-dress of the guardesses was decent, and not
uncomely. A narrow fillet of blue or white cotton bound
the hair, and the bosom was concealed by a sleeveless
waistcoat of various colours, giving freedom to the arms,
and buttoning in front like that affected by Hausa Mos-
lems. The loin wrapper, of dyed stuff, mostly blue, pink,
and yellow, extended to the ancles, and was kept tight
round the waist by a sash, generally white, with long ends
depending on the left. The body toilette was rendered
more compact by an outer girthing of cartridge-box and
belt, European-shaped, but home-made, of black leather,
adorned with cowries ; or of bandoleers, containing in
separate compartments twelve to sixteen wooden gun-
powder boxes, like cases for lucifer matches. The bullet-
bag, with a few iron balls, hung by a shoulder strap to the
dexter side, and was preserved in position by being passed
under the cartridge-belt. All had knives, or short Daho-
man falchions, 1 in shape not unlike, though smaller than,
guns, powder, and iron (lead being here unknown), for the use of his
brave foe ; attacked the place, which he found unprepared, and
"broke" it, without the people making an effort at self-defence. So
in 1728, Governor Testesole, of Whydah, exasperated by the inso-
lence of the Dahoman traders, whipped one of their principal men at
the flag-post, and said that he would serve the King (Agaja) in the
same manner, if he could. That governor was, of course, murdered,
i Curious to say, whilst many of the central African tribes are
adepts at smelting iron, it is an art unknown to the rude Dahoman ;
although the material abounds in the northern country, they import
it from Europe. The blade is but slightly curved, one edged, and
poorly tempered, about 16 inches long, and 1-50 inch at the broadest
part, which is the half nearer the point. The hilt or handle is only
three inches long, and, like that of Abyssinia, too short for a good
grip ; it is of brass or other metal, of wood, ribbed or plain, covered
with shagreen. Sometimes there is a single bar, as in the briquet, to
guard the hand, and there is usually a brass knob for pommel. The
scabbard is of black leather, with ferule of brass or white metal at the
tip, a broad band at the top, and one or two round the centre ; in
some scabbards almost all the leather is concealed. The price varies
from i dol. 50 c. to 2 dols. : the silver-mounted fetch 8 dols.
IX. The Reception. 171
that most fatal to the wearer of all weapons, the old
French briquet. The firelock, a good solid Tower-marked
article, 1 was guarded by sundry charms, and protected
from damp by a case of black monkey-skin tightly clasp-
ing the breeching, and opening to the rear. Many had
long tassels dangling from the barrels.
The only other peculiarity in the court was a row of
three large calabashes, ranged on the ground before and
a little to the left of royalty. They contain the calvaria?
of the three chiefs amongst forty kings, or petty headmen
said to have been destroyed by Gelele : and they are
rarely absent from the royal levees. A European would
imagine these relics to be treated with mockery ; whereas
the contrary is the case. So the King Sinmenkpen (Ada-
hoonzou II.), after unwrapping an enemy's cranium, said
to Mr. Norris, " If I should fall into hostile hands, I
should wish to be treated with that decency of which I set
the example." The first skull was that of Akia'on, chief
of Attako (Taccow), near " Porto Novo," which was
destroyed about three years ago. Beautifully white and
polished, it is mounted in a ship or galley of thin brass
about a foot long, with two masts, and jibboom, rat t lings,
anchor, and four portholes on each side, one pair being
in the raised quarter-deck. When King Gezo died, his
successor received a message from this chief, that all men
were now truly joyful, that the sea had dried up, and
that the world had seen the bottom of Dahome. Gelele
rejoined by slaying him, and by mounting his skull in a
ship, meaning that there is still water enough to float
the kingdom, and that if the father is dead the son is
alive. The second cranium, which also was well-boiled,
and which, like the rest, wanted the lower jaw,-
1 In Gezo's time the troops had mostly "long Danes," or
"buccaneer guns." Mr. Duncan, vol i. p. 240.
2 The lower jawbone is coveted as an ornament for umbrellas,
sword-handles, and other such purposes. It is taken with horrible
172 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
was that of Bakoko of Ishagga. It was crossed at right
angles by four bars of bright brass ; a thin mask of the
same metal, rudely marked with eyes and unraised nose,
gave it a monkey-like appearance. On the poll, and
where the bars met, was a brass bowl with a tip like a
calabash stalk, by which the upper half could be raised,
to serve as a drinking-cup : this, when viewed in front,
looked somewhat like a Phrygian cap, or a knightly hel-
met. During Gelele's attack upon Abeokuta, in 1851, the
people of Ishagga behaved with consummate treachery,
which eleven years afterwards was terribly punished by
the present ruler. Bakoko was put to death, and as a
sign that he ought to have given water to a friend in
affliction, men now drink from his recreant head. The
third calvaria, also washed, was that of Flado, an Abeo-
kutan general, sent to the aid of the Ishaggas. Along the
ridge crown of the head ran a broad leaf in brass, to which
was attached a thick copper wire and a chain which can
raise it from its base ; the latter is an imitation in brass
of a country-trap ; whilst a small white flag and cloth are
wound round the stout wire. This showed that Flado
fell into the pit which he dug for another. 1
Whilst the soldiery of picked women danced and
sang, the deputation of four Moslems was brought in by
the Min-gan. The captains who had charge of them
prostrated themselves upon the clay, not the sand-ring 2
cruelty : the muscles at each ramus are severed with a knife, and the
jaw is torn out with the left hand from the yet living victim.
1 Gezo had also his three favourite skulls (Mr. Duncan, vol. i,
p. 245). That traveller, after seeing 2000 to 3000 crania, remarked that
"several were deficient of any suture across the upper part," in the
proportion of i : 12, whilst those without longitudinal division were
as i : 27. He also found the Makhi crania receding from the nasal
bone, or lower part of the forehead, to the top in a greater angle tha,n
those of any other country.
2 This loose white sand is brought from Diddo, a water to the
north-west of Agbome : it is quite as cleanly as the powder and other
stuff worn by our grandsires.
IX. The Reception. 173
nearer the throne, and shovelled it up by handfuls over
their heads and arms, showing that they were of lower
rank than the ministers. This is the ceremonial which
every writer upon Dahoman subjects finds so degrading,
and with which the traveller meets in almost all semi-
barbarous societies, especially in negro and negroid king-
doms, since the days of Leo Africanus. The Itte d'ai, or
" lying on ground," is a strictly scriptural prostration, 1
and it corresponds with the "shashtanga" of the Hindus,
and with the Chinese " kow-tow." At the court of the
Cazembe in South-Eastern Africa, and in the equatorial
kingdom of Uganda, it is practised exactly as in Dahome.
In the Congo regions, prostration is made, the earth is
kissed, and dust is strewed over the forehead and arms,
before every petty Banza or village chief. According to
Barbot (1700), the interpreter of the " King of Zair,"
probably Boma, vulgarly Embomma, after rubbing his
hands and face in the dust, " took one of the royal feet in
his hands, spat on the sole thereof and licked it with his
tongue." It is doubtless the origin of " sijdah " amongst
Moslems, who hold a dusty forehead to be mubarak, or of
good omen; and the Shi'ah heresy rests the prostrated
brow upon small flat cakes of the earth of Kerbela, much
renowned for martyrs. The Mohammedans of Senegal
have also learned to throw sand or earth with both hands
over their own heads. Ibn Batutah has described the
wallowing and dusting of the older Nigrotic Courts.
Jobson remarked the same at Tenda, Clapperton at Oyo,
and Denham amongst the " Musgows."
i See the cases of David and Abigail falling at his feet (i Sam.
xxv. 23) ; Mephibosheth (2 Sam. ix. 6) falls on his face and " does
reverence"; Absolom (Ibid. xiv. 33) bows himself on his face to the
ground before the king ; Bath-sheba (i Kings i. 16-31) "bowed and
did obeisance." But Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 221) was " much surprised
as well as disgusted with such absurd abject humiliation." He
apparently knew more of the bridoon than of the Bible.
174 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahotne.
The fact is, that salutations are of three kinds over
all the world, either a movement of the saluter's body,
or touching some part of the salutee's person, or,
lastly, adding to or taking from the dress. Here the
ceremony typifies the state of society. There is, in
Dahome, absolutely no rank between the king and the
servile ; so complete is the despotism that, as in Japan, 1
unlawful wounding would be punished, not for injuring a
member of society, but for doing harm to the king's slave.
All being equally nothing in the royal presence, they there
must behave accordingly ; but when outside the palace,
these high potentates expect the commonalty to kneel, to
kiss the ground, and to clap hands before them, as if they
The full salutation of men and women, which I shall
call "making obeisance," consists of two actions. The
first is the " Itte d'ai," or prostration, the Doballe of
the Egbas, or Abeokutans. The saluter falls prone with
his head, if a grandee, in the white sand ; he rubs the
forehead on the ground, touches earth with both cheeks,
and kisses it, taking particular care that as much as
possible may adhere to his vasty lips, and often rubbing
the dust over his face with the right hand ; he now claps
hands, three sets of clappings being the normal number,
and if more than one be doing it at once, the cue is given
and admirable time is kept. Then he performs ko-dide, 2
pouring the sand or earth by handfuls over his scalp or
hair, where it sticks for a long time. There is no fixed
number of shovellings ; the more plentifully the fine
garments are sand-bathed the more humility is displayed.
I cannot, however, like others, consider the practice
wholly uncleanly ; at any rate it promotes cleanliness, by
rendering ablution neccessary on return home. After
1 In Japan, where the moral sense of the people is more highly
developed by despotism, such cutting and maiming becomes wounding
the king, or regicide.
2 Ko (earth), and dide (take up ! shovel !).
IX. The Reception. 175
the arms have been as well dusted as the head, face, and
raiment, kneeling and lip-rubbing conclude the ceremony.
There are many minor modifications, or rather parts
of obeisance, which I shall call "saluting." These are
actions accompanying the return of thanks for an address
by the King, or when it is deemed right to address royalty.
The highest officers lie before the King in the posi-
tion of Romans upon the triclinium. At times they roll
over upon their bellies, or relieve themselves by standing
"on all fours." When approaching royalty they either
crawl like snakes, or shuffle forward on their knees.
During the levee they must raise frequent cries of "Akhosu
li akhosu ! " literally, " King all (i.e., of all) Kings ! " and
"Akhosu te te le ! " " Small, small Kings ! " meaning that
before this mighty "Cham" all other monarchs are boys.
The messengeress, when summoning a subject to the
presence, says, " Se iro we ! " " The Se, or spirit, 1 re-
quires you!" When the King has spoken, all exclaim
"Se do Nugbo /" " the spirit speaketh true ! " to which
some add, "moen de ! " " So it is ! " an historical phrase
often preceded by " nagboe ! " " It is true ! "
From these appearances a stranger, like Dr. M'Leod,
is apt to conclude that the Dahoman king represents,
like the Shahanshahs of ancient Persia, a king of God
upon earth, and that he can daily act out, whenever he is
" i' the vein," even with the proudest in his dominions,
Henry the Fifth's " You are a liar ! " with the speedy
conclusion, " By my head thou shalt lose thy head ! "
This is far from being the case, as the more observing
former travellers well knew. 2 The ministers, 8 war cap-
1 For an explanation of Se, see chapter xvii. The King is called
a spirit, as having power of life and death.
2 So Captain Phillips (1694) justly remarks of the King of Whydah :
"Though his cappasheirs (caboceers) shows him so much respect, he
dare not do anything but what they please."
3 Some except the Min-gan and Meu, which, however, is not
176 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
tains, and fetisheers may be, and often are, individually
punished by the King : collectively they are too strong
for him, and without their cordial co-operation he would
soon cease to reign. And this apparently perfect sub-
jection of the inferior to the superior runs through every
grade of Dahoman society. The " Frippons, or common
scoundrel blacks," as the old writer calls them, kneel and
clap hands before the patrician, as if the latter were
their proprietor ; they listen to every order with religious
attention, and afterwards they obey it or not exactly as
they please. 1 Except in the case of serfs, slaves, and
captives, there is throughout Dahome, and I may say
Africa, more of real liberty and equality I will not add
fraternity than in any other quarter of the globe, and
the presence of the servile renders the freemen only freer
and more equal.
The Moslems of the " Porto Novo " deputation
resembled Bambarra men ; one, however, was fair as an
Arab. They wore white turbands over tall red caps, large
broad trousers, and the " Guinea fowl " embroidered robe
of Yoruba. Behind them sat their band, four co-religion-
ists, in white calottes and meaner robes. The only
instruments were tom-toms. There were also a few
Kafirs, or pagans, that seemed attached, probably as
carriers, to the party. These men had been sent by the
King's brother, of "Porto Novo," about which there was
much excitement, to the great disfavour of the French
Whilst the Min-gan who presented these men "made
obeisance," the Moslems sat gravely on the clay-ground,
at a distance from the King. Then one of the Alufa, 2
1 Barbot well hits off this trait. "Though the Whydahs," he
observes, " tremble with awe at a word from the King, as soon as he
has turned his back they seem to forget their great fear of him ; and
not much regard his commands, as very well knowing how to appease
and delude him by their lies."
2 Alufa, probably a corruption of Arif, is the Egba word for a
IX. The Reception. 177
with hands upraised in the prayer position, recited by
heart long, fluent orisons, concluded, as usual, by drawing
the palms down the face. The introducer, who sat with
his back to the King, imitated every gesture of the
visitor. Although the Moslem countenance expressed
some awe at the apparatus in the palace, it well main-
tained before this heathenry the dignity of the Safe
Finally the Dakro woman at the foot of the throne
brought in due form a welcome from the King to his
brother's envoys. The heathen again powdered them-
selves with dust, and the Moslems bent towards the
ground. This was a signal to the female attendants, who,
after a startling clash and clang of cymbals, neckbells,
and rattles, presented arms a la Dahome, the guns being
raised in the air. The mixed company of beauties per-
formed sundry dances. Presents and drink, in sign of
dismissal, were sent to the deputation ; the Moslems took
the water, the Kafirs two flasks of rum, whilst two
baskets (== 20 heads, or 2) of cowries and five baskets
of food were served out to the whole party. The gift was
received by the heathenry crouching on the ground, and
uttering a curious noise, likest to feline purring, whilst the
True Believers again prayed for the King. The deputa-
tion was presently conducted to the palace-gate by their
introducers, who bent, as is customary when leaving the
presence, almost double, and went off at a hurried pace.
It was then brought back, and the royal presents were
placed upon the envoy's heads, only the four turbands
being exempt. Salutes were again exchanged and the
Porto Novians finally left the palace yard.
The mixed company danced once more, and this
Mullah, a Moslem theologian. Imale in Egba, and Malenun in Ffon,
both probably corrupted from Muallim, means the common Moslem.
Hence some of our older authors brought the Malays to Dahome.
See History, p. 48, note signed " J.F."
VOL. I. 12
1 78 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
time it was joined by a dozen razor women, who, defiling
past the King from the she-Meu's to the Min-gan's side,
took their stations near the throne. These Nyekplehen-
to 1 seemed the largest and strongest women present, and
they held their weapons upwards in the air like standards,
with a menacing air and gesture. The blade is about
eighteen inches long, and is shaped exactly like a Euro-
pean razor; it closes into a wooden handle about two
feet in length, and though kept in position by strong
springs, it must be, I should think, quite as dangerous to
the owner as to the enemy. These portable guillotines
were invented by a brother of the late King Gezo, and the
terror which they inspire may render them useful.
At the end of the dance, Ji-bi-whe-ton, 2 acting
captainess of the Beauty Company, came forwards with
the usual affected military swagger, not without a sus-
picion of a dance. She is, or was, a fine tall woman,
with glittering teeth, and a not unpleasant expression
when her features are at rest. She addressed a violent
speech to the male Min-gan, who repeated it aloud to the
King, with whom it found favour. Ending with cutting
off the head of an imaginary corpse upon the ground, she
retired to her command. Presently, for the cacoethes
loquendi was upon her, she again advanced, and spoke with
even more gesticulation than before. " Thus they would
treat Abeokuta ! " The sentiment elicited immense
Followed chorus, solo, and various decapitation
dancings of the mixed company, the weapons being, as
1 Meaning, nyekple (the weapon itself), hen (hold), to (one that
does). French travellers call them " Les faucheuses."
2 Ji (sky), bi (all), whe (sun), ton (belonging to), i.e., " all the sky
belongs to the sun." The commanding officeress is Danh-ji-hun-to,
meaning, the rainbow is the captain or governor of (viz. , goes round)
the sky ; that is to say, the King of Dahome rules the (black) world.
Mr. Duncan's " Dagbyweka," vol. i. p. 231, seems to be a confusion
between the two.
IX. The Reception. 179
usual, grounded, the war-club seized, and the shoulder-
blades and posteriors being agitated to excess. Even the
performances of these figurantes, the cream of the royal
ballet, are not to be admired. They stand most un-
gracefully the legs, which are somewhat slight for the
body, being wide apart, and the toes certainly turned in
and probably up. When the exercise ended, the razor
and chopper women l brandished their weapons, and all
the line advancing, " presented" with upraised muskets.
At the Dahoman Court, curious to say in Africa,
women take precedence of men ; yet, with truly Hamitic
contradictiousness, the warrioresses say, " We are no
longer females but males " ; and a soldier disgracing
himself is called, in insult, a woman. It is clear, there-
fore, that they owe their dignity to the fiction of being
royal wives. Wherever a she-soldiery is, celibacy must
be one of its rules, or the troops will be in a state of
chronic functional disorder between the ages of fifteen and
After the Amazons, all the male caboceers, taking
choppers and peculiar bill-hook-like blades, 2 some iron,
others silver, danced tumultuously before the King, to
the general song of the women on the right of the throne.
Even the tottering Meu, who leaned upon a tomahawk
long enough to act as a staff, joined in the movement.
Presently Gelele sent a message to the Gau, declaring
1 The chopper is called ananun (confusion or badness), wa (doing),
and hwisu (knife-sword, or dagger) ; meaning, the " cutting badly
knife." Strangers call it the blue-knife. It is a top-heavy blade four
spans long, bluff and broadening to one palm at the end like the old
Turkish falchion, and narrowing to two fingers at the hilt. The form
is by no means so exaggerated as the wonderful chopping-knives of
the Gold Coast. Down the centre runs a broad line, depressed and
not polished like the back and edge. These knives, being royal gifts,
may not be bought.
2 Many of these end in a circle whose diameter is twice the
breadth of the blade ; sometimes the surface is worked and pierced
like nsh-slicers. The bill appears to be ornamental, not useful.
180 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
that this year Abeokuta must be taken ; the tall old man,
standing up with a military air, swore that it certainly
should fall, and the oath was repeated by his surly-look-
ing junior the Po-su.
The King then addressed me through the Meu and
Mr. Beecham, to the effect that this year Abeokuta must
be as a mouse before the cat ; he also invited me to
accompany him to sit behind the army and to see the
sport. I replied that " Understone " had long ceased
friendship with the white man. A little pleasantry ensued
touching it not being our English habit to hang back
when aught is doing ; and the King taking all in excellent
part, we stood up bareheaded, and waved four salutations.
Among the remarkabilia of the scene was Adan-
men-nun-kon, 1 right-hand Commander of the Blue
Guards, and a fine specimen of " Monsieur Parolles " in
black. This man of loyal appellation is a tall, lean, sooty-
faced fellow, with a large, whitish, and big-tasselled night-
cap decorating his head, a pink pagne, and a baldric
adorned with cowries. Rising like a warrior, with carbine
and tomahawk, he assured me, in the midst of loud screams
and violent gesticulations, that at 'Gba 2 even the unborn
child must perish ; and he strove to look as if he were
doing it to death. His "brother" Zodome, acting for
1 Among the Dahomans are many mystic names, like Joshua, Isa,
and others. These are mostly of the Bo-fetish, a war-medicine
which prevents wounds (chapter xi.). The words mean, adan (brave),
men (man), nun (side, face), kon (upon). The title is explained in two
ways. "I am brave upon another man's side," i.e., to take him
prisoner ; or, " however brave nations are, the king is the bravest of
2 This is the Yoruban word Egba ; in Ffon it means "break."
In Dahome the Egba race, from Lagos to Abeokuta, is called Anago
at Whydah, and Nago at Agbome. J. F., the annotator of the His-
tory, says, " Of the Nago country nothing more is known than the
name." The word has been greatly corrupted by old travellers : it is,
however, extensively used in Brazil. On the other hand, the Nago
people call the Ffons, or Dahomans, Gunu.
IX. The Reception.
Chabi, the left-hand Commander of the Blues, confirmed
the idea. The Voice from the Throne added, as is the
habit, many an illustration of the speeches, concluding
with the declaration that the Abeokutans must not only
be beheaded, their bodies must also be cut to pieces.
There appeared two silver-horned fetish chiefs, of the
Blue Company, who in the hour of battle personally at-
tend upon the King. " Awafanfin," which was translated
to me, "A fetish guide for Abeokuta," drew his knife,
and declared that with the blade, not with a gun, he would
attack the cravens who lurked behind their walls. The
King cordially echoed this; and added that, even if in
England, I should hear of his destructive deeds. His
right-hand, or superior colleague, a good-looking youth,
called Hnengada, a " King-Bo-fetish name" (interpreted
to mean, "When the spindle turns cotton, it must become
thread"), then stood up. He informed me, "The forest
tree is strong with root and cordage, and is heavy with
trunk and branch, whilst the wind is thin, and cannot be
seen ; but the gale lays low the loftiest of the green wood ;
and Dahome is that wind, whilst Abeokuta is that tree."
This sentiment was also explained by the King. The
speakers kissed the ground, and rubbed earth upon their
brows: then the chorus of captains sang
When we go to war we must slay men,
And so must Abeokuta be destroyed.
The mixed company was now greatly increased by
women, who had denied in single line before the throne.
There were bayoneteeresses, with blue cloth tunics and a
white patch on the shoulder, white fillets like those of the
men, sashes to match supporting their swords, and various-
ly-coloured pagnes. The blunderbuss women, who were,
like the former, sitting under the she-Min-gan, distin-
guished themselves by scarlet woollen nightcaps. After
they had danced and sung, their captainess, Ji-bi-whe-ton,
advanced, and said that they would fire a salute for their
1 82 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
old commander. With some difficulty two sides of a
square were formed, fronting the south and west. The
manoeuvres consisted of an individual sallying out like
the Arab "Mubariz," delivering her fire, and retiring to
the ranks. All raised their weapons steadily, with left
arms extended, and fired from the shoulders, not from the
hips as the men do to avoid the kick; they returned with
a kind of caper, and they did not flinch after the fashion
of the Dahoman soldiers. The bayonet women, after
firing, extended a single very gauche thrust. The blunder-
buss soldieresses grounded the butts of their heavy
weapons, and discharged them at an angle of 45 deg.
After several rounds they again chanted :
We like not to hear that Abeokuta lives ;
But soon we shall see it fall.
This was followed by the usual dance and chorus, which
concluded with a "present" of uplifted weapons.
When the sun had set, a Dakro brought us directions
to advance and to bid adieu to the King, whilst sundry
flasks and decanters of 'tafia and other liquors were dis-
tributed in token of dismissal. Approaching the throne,
we made the usual " compliments." Gelele, wrapping
his robe around him, descended from the estrade, donned
his sandals, and, attended by his umbrella and a large
crowd of the Kan-gbo-de's huissiers bearing lights and
links, stalked forth towards the palace-yard gate, with a
right kingly stride. Every inequality of ground was
smoothed, every stick or stone was pointed out, with
finger snappings, lest it might offend the royal toe, and a
running accompaniment of " Dadda ! Dadda!" (Grand-
father ! Grandfather!) and of " Dedde ! Dedde! 1 "
(Softly! Softly!) was kept up. Passing out of the gate,
we found a swarming of negroes, whose hum during the
whole audience had been heard inside the palace. They
buzzed about like excited hornets. I know not if the
i De ! here means " softly," as " Bleo " is used on the Gold Coast.
IX. The Reception. 183
manoeuvre was done purposely to exaggerate the sem-
blance of a multitude, but I can answer that it was a
The King accompanied us to some distance outside
the palace a compliment first paid to Commodore
Wilmot. 1 His ministers were around him, and the Meu
placed in my hands, according to ancient custom,-' a
handful of potsherd bits, showing the number of return
guns expected at Whydah. Preceded by the Yevogan,
we made for the English house. The road was crowded
with fetish women, marching in full dress and in single
file to a queer song. Arrived at our destination, we gave
liquor to the whole tail, and we were happy when we
found ourselves in comparative solitude.
From the above description it is evident that the
Dahoman possesses, to some extent, the ceremonial
faculty. On such occasions the pageantry of African
Courts is to be compared with that of Europe, propor-
tionately with the national state of progress. But it is
evidently the result of long and studious practice. Every-
thing goes by clockwork ; the most intricate etiquette
proceeds without halt or mistake ; and it ever superadds
the element Terror, whose absence in civilized countries
often converts ceremonial to a something silly. As, how-
ever, the reader has been warned, he has seen the best.
The outside displays are wretched. Misery mixes with
magnificence, ragged beggars and naked boys jostle
jewelled chiefs and velvet-clad Amazons ; whilst the real
negro grotesqueness, like bad perspective, injures the
1 King Gezo accompanied Mr. Duncan almost to his dwelling.
2 In the History (p. 124), Mr. Norris, after being saluted, was
shown fifteen pebbles in a small calabash, which he " recollected was
the number of guns that were fired on the preceding evening."
THE MARCH TO AGBOME.
THE King was detained at Kana, as we were after-
wards informed, by sundry cases affecting human life.
Not fewer than 150 " Amazons " were found to be pregnant
so difficult is chastity in the Tropics. They confessed,
and they were brought to trial with their paramours. 1
The King has abolished the " Brehon judges " established
by his father: the malversation of these "justices in
eyre" rendered reference to them like "going," as the
old traveller has it, "to the Devil for redress." He now
investigates each case personally, often sitting in judg-
ment till midnight, and rising before dawn on the next
day ; moreover, every criminal has a right of personal
appeal to him. 2 The crime was lese-majeste rather than
simple advowtry ; all the soldieresses being, I have
said, royal wives. Eight men were condemned to death,
and will probably be executed at the Customs. The
majority were punished either by imprisonment or by a
banishment to distant villages, under pain of death if
they revisit the capital, and some were pardoned. 3 The
1 We read that in the reign of Sinmenkpen (Adahoonzou II.), a
female conspiracy in the palace caused the sale of 150 men from the
villages near Kana, for dishonouring the King. Their innocence was
not discovered till too late.
2 Mr. Duncan was present at two of these appeals (vol. i. p. 259).
3 This leniency and amenity of discipline form a curious contrast
with the horribly barbarous punishments which, according to Bosman
X.The March to Agbome. 185
partners of their guilt were similarly treated. Female
criminals are executed by officers of their own sex, within
the palace walls, not in the presence of men. Dahome is
therefore one point more civilized than Great Britain,
where they still, wondrous to relate, " hang away" even
women, and in public.
In the afternoon of Sunday, December 2oth, we
effected a departure from the English house. Sundry
boxes were left behind, owing to the desertion of the
carriers, who are fast learning bad habits : yesterday they
stole an enamelled iron cup. The Court being at Kana,
bell-women were a nuisance on the road ; at every five
minutes the hammock-men huddled us into the bush.
Arrived at the Akoreha, or eastern market-place, we sat
down near the Buko-no's house, awaiting his escort.
Here fetish women crowded upon us, clapping palms for
a present. They were easily dispersed by their likenesses
Already the sun began to cool, 1 though the sky was
still all ablaze with golden glory. After half an hour's
delay, the old Buko-no came up, leaning on the Bokpo,-
or crutch staff, which wards off the evils of the way.
Presently we remounted hammocks, and he, by means of
a chair, climbed upon the back of his little bidet a mare
and Barbot, followed such an offence two and a half centuries ago.
In 1845 Mr. Duncan was informed that the victims at the Kana
sacrifice " had been guilty of adulterous intercourse with one of the
King's wives, in consequence of which they were sentenced to be put
to death by being beaten with clubs, and after death mutilated " (vol.
i. p. 220). The object of the mutilation is here, I believe, wrongly
1 Mr. Duncan twice asserts (vol. ii. pp. 260, 288), that "it is a
custom in Dahomey for all strangers of note visiting that capital to
arrive and depart as nearly as possible when the sun is at its
meridian." The practice is now obsolete.
2 Literally a Bo-staff. It is known by a little petticoat called
"Avo," or cloth, bound on below the crutch, and concealing the
1 86 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
followed by a foal. The animals here are not larger than
Shetland ponies, but they are generally, as is the
Maharatta-land "tattoo," shaped like stunted horses,
showing the remains of good blood. They have fine
noses, well-opened eyes, and sharp ears. As in Yoruba
generally, the tits are excessively vicious, and if ap-
proached by a stranger, they will fly at him with a
scream. This is doubtless owing to the brutality of their
negro grooms. They are, when mounted, invariably led
like donkeys, by a halter the bridle, like the stirrup,
being unknown. The little jades are almost hid in the
local saddle, enormous housings of blue cloth, padded,
quilted, and worked outside with white thread, while
huge curtain tassels depend to their knees. As a rule,
the rider is lifted on and off by his slaves. Whilst on
horseback he passes his arm round the neck of a man
walking by his side, and his waist is supported by the
same attendant's near arm. 1
The Buko-no was habited in the usual " Chokoto," or
little drawers, with a long shirt about his body, and a
black-ribboned Panama hat. His escort of thirty-three
retainers was that of a Dahoman noble on a journey, and
the common people on the road knelt and clapped palms
as he passed. He was preceded by nine musketeers, who
danced and sang the whole way with unwearied energy.
His fetish stick was carried before him in a calico etui by
a man in a long white cap like the extinguisher-shaped
nightgear of our ancestors. The Buko-no rode under the
shade of a large white umbrella, and was closely followed
by his axe man, who gave orders as one having authority.
The train was brought up by the band, chiefly boys,
with three drums, a couple of tom-toms, two single
cymbals, and a pair of gourd rattles : they kept up a loud
i So King Gezp told off two attendants to hold Mr. Duncan, the
Lifeguardsman, on his horse, and was much surprised by a trot and
X. The March to Agbome. 187
horrid noise throughout the march. About a dozen
carriers were scattered about the cortege bearing a pipe
and tobacco bag, a Gold Coast chair, a footstool and
calabashes, and bundles of clothes and matting.
From Kana to Agboine all is historic ground, and \
the land is emphatically the garden of Dahorne, showing /
a wondrous soft and pleasant aspect. The soil is sandy, /
with the usual pebbles overlying red and yellow clays/
and where grass is not, the surface is a succession of
palm orchards and grain fields belonging to the King and
to his ministers. Many of the trees are pollarded, as in
TenerifTe, by removing the tops and branches to thicken
the shade ; these are mostly observed round the frequent
villages that stud the fair champaign. The road, six or
seven miles long, separating the two capitals may com-
pare with the broadest in England, and although to the
eye it spans a plain, there is an imperceptible rise of
about 694 feet, which extricates us from lowland Africa.
For the convenience of the royal carriages it is carefully
kept clear of grass, which would obliterate it in two
months; yet the Africans, accustomed to nothing but
Indian file, wear single paths in it like sheep tracks. It
is a study of the national character to see each following
his neighbour in goose line down a road upon which four
coaches could be driven abreast. 1
After a few yards we dismounted at a spot where a
i In the " African Times," an ignoble sheet, which, I should
hardly say "by permission," constitutes itself the organ of the
African Aid Society of London, there has appeared for many an issue
an advertisement headed " Aguapem Mountain Road," and sending
round the hat in the usual style. This is no bad way to coax the
British gold out of the British breeches-pocket. But beyond that
nothing. Such a road, once made, would be buried in vegetation
after a few months, unless kept clear at a great expense. Secondly,
like that of Kana, it would be cut up into paths : the negro has no
shoes, consequently he must tread, despite all our endeavours, on a
place softened by those who precede him.
1 88 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
log placed traversely on the ground showed us the Kana
'gbo-nun, 1 or Kana Gate. It had the usual surroundings
of fetish sheds and spaces cleared for worship, and all the
natives when stepping over it removed their caps. The
next names were " Pakhi," so called from an ancient chief-
tain slain by King Dako and " Ekpwento" a "Bo" name
both holy places, with barriers of the Thunder Fetish
shrub stretching nearly across the road. After half an
hour we passed on the left Legba 'si-gon, 2 a clearing with
many dwarf thatches where the Legba-priest comes forth
and prays for the King and for the largesse of white
visitors. A few yards further, and to the right of the
road, was a compound, showing only the tops of conical
huts ; this is the Bweme, or country place of the Agasun-
no, 8 here the Archbishop of Canterbury, who ranks at
Agbome next to the King. Rapidly we pass the following
interesting sites: Bru-vodun, the fetish of the "Bru"
(blue) or English Company ; Arima, a fetish of the same
corps ; Aizan 'li, the road of Aizan, 4 a holy place for the
'Mman or Gezo's Mad Company ; Bagidi-Samun, so
called from an old king of Adan-we ; the Adan-gbno-ten, 5
where the king halts when going from Agbome to Kana ;
and the Avrekete Loko 'li, or road of Avrekete 6 Loko .
tree. They are clean spaces, adorned with pots, sticks,
flags and tents : many of them have circlets of the
1 Agbo (town-gate, or enceinte with wall and ditch), and nun
(side, or mouth). A house-gate is called hon-to, from hon (a door),
and if large, hon-to'gbo (big gate).
2 Legba (the Dahoman Priapus), si for asi (a wife, i.e., a votary),
and gon (a place).
3 For an explanation of Agasun, see chap. xvii. No is " mother,"
the use of which word has been before noticed.
4 For an explanation of Aizan, see chap. xvii.
5 Adan (brave), gbno (swear), ten (place). Others pronounce the
word Adan-blon-noten, and explain it, Adan (brave), blon (swear), and
6 For an explanation of Avrekete, see chap, xvii
X. The March to Agbome. 189
Thunder Fetish shrub often surrounding a taller tree, and
the latter is usually a giant Bombax, with the Azan or
fetish-fringe round the trunk. 1
About an hour of slow marching brought us to the
Adan-we Palace. 2 It lies on the right of the road, a heap
of matting half buried in trees. According to the people it
was built by Tegbwesun (1727-1774) and the King still
sleeps here when he leaves Agbome in the evening for
Kana. Around it, but especially to the north, is the
cradle of the Dahoman empire, the classic Uhwawe, cor-
rupted into Dawhee by Mr. Norris, who calls it " the
ancient residence of the reigning family, and the capital of
their little territory before they emerged from their original
obscurity. 1 ' 1 The "Awawe people," though long subjects
of the empire, still preserve, like the Agoni and others,
their old name. Opposite the Adan-we is Addein, a
village also conquered by the first Dahoman king, Dako.
Then came the Akwe-janahan, 4 the market of these two
settlements, where a few women were sitting at sale ; it
is said to be the half-way place.
The road now was bordered with the Locust that
affords the Afiti sauce, by the Egbas called Ogiri. It is
a tall irregular tree, with a leaf like a young fern; the
fruit dangles to a long cord, and when ripe it is scarlet-
red, and about the size of a billiard ball. Presently the
soft external substance falls off, leaving the core, a green
sphere not larger than a musket bullet, and from it sprout
long bright green pods curiously twisted. When ripe the
seeds are fermented to a mass strong as assafcetida, and
1 For an explanation of this term, see chap. iv.
2 Said to mean Aden (brave), and we (white). Mr. Duncan (vol.
i. p. 216) calls it " Adawie, three miles and a half from Canamina."
3 See also chap. v.
4 Akwe (cowries), janahan (if you have not got scil., you can buy
i go A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
form in palaver sauce a favourite ingredient, which, how-
ever, the stranger will not relish before some time. It is
the " wild tamarind " of Mr. Dalzel, and in the landscape
it forms a most effective feature.
Followed in rapid succession on both sides of the
path the fetish clearings of Daji, a princely worship, Ga-
sa-uhun * and Logun-aizan 'li, a Bo-name given by King
Gezo. The next was a mud-house and a farm belonging
to royalty : it is called Nyakho-gon, the place of Nyakho,
the ruling chief, who was captured and slain by Dako.
Another sacred place, Vodun-no Deme, a fetish of the
Fanti company of Amazons, led to a bifurcation of the
road. The left branch is a short cut to the Jegbe Palace,
of which more afterwards. Close to the junction are the
little hut villages of Attako and Ishagga, named after the
conquests of the present reign : when the King breaks a
town he builds another, and is supposed to place there
the poor remnants of his captives. A little beyond and
in the road is the Ugo 'li 2 : here is the celebrated shea
butter-tree, alluded to by every traveller, and apparently
the only fruitful Bassia in the country. It is short-
trunked, twelve to fifteen feet high, thick-branched, and
mango-shaped, with a tender green leaf, at first of a dark
colour, then waxing yellow and affording a dense shade,
in which a small market is held. It is now flowering,
and it will bear fruit in the rains. Then came a clear
space on the left of the road, called Van-van from a Nago
town conquered by Gezo. A "joji 3 " or tall gallows of
thin poles, with the Azan fetish fringe to prevent the
passage of calamity, then halted us : a wisp of grass was
1 Ga (bow), sa (throwing), uhun (bombax tree).
2 Ugo (shea butter-tree), 'li (for ali, a road). According to Mr.
Duncan (vol. i. p. 285) this valuable tree was destroyed throughout
the land at the suggestion of the Spanish and Portuguese slavers
which is incredible. He well describes the fruit and its various
3 Jo (wind), ji (upon).
X. The March to Agbome. 191
handed to each of us, and we were desired to throw it
away to the fetish ; whom may Allah blight ! The land
around is called Leflefun, 1 from the Nago people, whose
chief, Chade, was slain by King Gezo, and who were
finally settled here. The eye dwells with delight upon
the numerous country villages, like the 115 towns of the
tribe of Judah, and upon the thin forest of palms rising
from the tapestry of herbage, here waving, there cut short,
which combine to make this spot the Fridaus or Paradise
Presently we arrived at another terminus or bifurca-
tion, the left path leading to the houses of the Matro
and the Adanejan, the Komasi Palace, and the Uhunjro
market. The next notable place was the Patin-'li, where
the now grassy road widens out, and shows two ragged
lines of figs, calabashes, locust, and oil palm trees. This
is also an Adan-gbno-ten or swearing-place, where the
King halts before entering Agbome from Kana, to receive
the oaths of fidelity, and to hear the brave talk of his
high officials, especially the military. A heap of ashes, 2
the usual sign of entering a great fetish place, points to a
white village of Bo-hwe, tabernacles, 3 or fetish hovels,
under huge cotton woods, beginning at about 350 yards
from the town gate. The guardian or Janus is Bo, who
is Legba on a larger scale. The nearest fetish huts are
six in number, and are disposed across the road ; a neat
compound for spiritual meetings rising from the grass on
the right hand. The hovels contained effigies of chame-
leons, speckled white and red ; horses known only by
their halters ; squatting men, like Day and Night at
masquerades, half mud-coloured and half spotted ; others
brown all over, and grinning with cowrie-teeth ; and the
largest a huge chalked gorilla, intended to be human, and
i The Leffle-foo of Commander Forbes (vol. i. p. 68).
2, Called Afin (ashes), zuru (heap), ji (upon).
3 Levit. xxiii. 40.
1 92 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
completely disgusting. Beyond it, to the right of the
path, was a single swish room, a fetish place, where the
King sits before entering his capital ; around it cluster
dwarf thatches sheltering attempts at leopards, and other
holy beasts. Near the city gate is another village of
fetish hovels, where a trivia leads on the right to the
Yevogan's hereditary hamlets, straight in front to the
capital, and by the left to the Jegbe, the present ruler's
We are now at the Dosum-wen Agbo-nun, 1 the
feature which gives its name to Agbome, the capital.
The word signifying the "town within the enceinte," or
"precincts"; and it has the anomaly of being, and pro-
bably of ever having been, with gateways and without
walls. The Agbo is a mud screen of five steps or courses,
like the palace encientes, fifteen to eighteen feet high,
and about 100 yards long. It is pierced with two wedge-
shaped gaps ; that to the right, as you front it, is open
for the public ; the other, and the larger, on the left, is
reserved for the ruler. The latter is permanently blocked
up with a stout hurdle, six feet high ; the former is closed
every night by a pair of similar fences, tied to stout side-
posts. Before the wall is a shallow moat, well worn by
human feet. Being pool-fronted during the rains each
more important gate is entered by a clay mound or by
two solid beams, overlaid with rough planks, forming a
bridge. Beyond the passage, at the ends, the moat is
dense grown with trees, especially with the thick and
thorny acacia bush in these lands one of the best de-
fences and it is prolonged round the capital. It is never
cleared. The outside grass is removed, lest in burning
the stubbles the Zun 2 might catch fire. There are
1 Meaning the town-gate of Dosum-wen, the name of the keeper.
It is called by Europeans the Kana gate. I have already explained
the meaning of Agbo-nun. Dr. M'Leod (p. 95), translates Abomey,
by " Let me alone." ( ! )
2 In all Yoruba towns the bush adjoining villages and towns is
X. The March to Agbome. 193
tunnels through the acacia bush where people may go to
gather leaves and plants for simples : none of the lieges,
however, are permitted, under pain of severe palaver, to
cross the ditch except by the established entrances.
There is a superstition touching these bridges. In former
reigns, if any subject happened to fall when treading one
of them he lost his head, even as in olden times happened
to a dancer so committing himself or herself before the
Arrived at the Kana gate we descended fr^nn our
hammocks, whilst all our attendants bared their shoulders,
removed their hats, and furled our umbrellas, as if it were
part of the King's palace. Passing in, we found on the
ground, at each side of the gate, a small black figure
called a Bo-chio. A little higher up, and let into the clay
of the gap-side, is a human skull,' 2 with thigh bones and
other amulets hanging about. Inside there are two guard-
houses, leading to the Agbonun-'khi, or "gate market,"
one of the rude little bazars scattered about the town.
Beyond it, and placed to defend the entrance, are the
remains of a broken-down battery. On the ground, to
the right of the road, lie thirty-six, on the left thirty-five
old guns, with their touch-holes rivalling their muzzles,
and with trunnions in many cases knocked off, showing
the insolent security of the place, and giving it already
the aspect of a ruin. Behind the right-hand battery is
the residence of the Gau, behind the left that of the
Po-su ; so, in the city of Great Benin, the " Captain of
War's " establishment is at the entrance. Both are the
usual masses of huts, enclosed in the normal clay wall.
spared for defence and shelter: at Abeokutaitis called "abu-si," and
1 See Dr. M'Leod (p. 59). Mr. Duncan (vol. ii. p. 289), being
lame, was permitted by the fetishman, on the King's order, to ride
through the gate, "at which every man seemed much amazed."
2 Skulls are also nailed to doors, in token of respect for some dead
VOL. I. 13
194 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
The establishment of the Commander-in-Chief is called
Gau-sra-men 1 ; it is backed by " Gau-hwe-gudo," an open
space of grass and dwarf corn plants, and that quarter of
the town is still known as Agbo-kho-nun, 2 the site of the
old gate which Agaja the Great removed to its present
position. It is evident, at the first glance, that Agbome
is built less closely than Whydah ; and that the open
spaces and gardens, even in the thickest part of the town,
have greatly the better of the houses.
Tl^e blacksmith's quarter, a field dotted with open
hovels, leads to the large enceinte of the old Meu : it
contains a prison for minor offenders, and the walls are
defended by a chevaux de frise of sharpened sticks. We
then arrived at an open space with a few trees to the
eastward of the " mighty carcase," called the Agbome
Palace. The place was bounded on the north by the
usual entrance to a Dahoman royal abode, a huge barn-
like shed, built by Agaja, the fourth king, and called
" Agrin-go-men " " In Agrin's Quiver. 3 " On the west
is the Ji-hwe, or Lofty Abode, by strangers called the
Cowrie-house. It is a two-storied barn under a heavy
thatch. The red-clay walls are split from top to foot, and
almost all of the thirty-eight windows, or rather holes, in
the frontage sides, and four in the short ends, are shored
up with sticks. Long lines of cowries are suspended
from the windows during the Customs, to astonish the
weak minds of the lieges, and these " bawbees " are after-
Having learned my ceremonial by heart, I positively
i Sra means the slaves' quarters, near the master's house.
2, Agbo (the enceinte), kho (old), and nun (side, or mouth).
3 Others say by Aho (Adahoonzou I.) the second king. It is re-
lated that when he importuned for more land Agrin, a petty chief of
the place, the latter exclaimed, " Wouldst thou build in Agrin's quiver?'
He was duly slain, and the gate was erected according to his words.
The etymon is too like that of " Dahome " (chapter v.) not to excite
I 3 2
X. The March to Agbome. 195
refused to dismount at this place, and I found afterwards
that it was a mere impertinence on the part of the Buko-
no. We passed along the southern wall of the Agbome
Palace, our direction being from N.E. to S.W. On the
summit were a few rusty iron skull-holders, an upright
spike to pass through the cranium, with a ring as handle,
and in the lower part a thin crescent-shaped bar for the
base of the head to rest upon. There was only one
human relic, a great alteration since the days of Sin-
menkpen (Adahoonzou II.), who, though six slavers were
awaiting their loads at Whydah, excited the admiration
of his subjects by taking off 147 heads to complete the
" thatching of his house. 1 " The custom is evidently
dying out, and Agbome will soon ignore what the Per-
sians would call her " kallehmunar. 2 "
After passing a huge unrepaired rent in the Palace
walls, whose miserable tattered aspect was an emblem of
the decaying Empire, and after hastening from its dirty
drains, mere holes with a bright shrub springing from a
foul pool, we came to a second barn-like shed. It is
called the Agwaji Gate, and was built by King Tegbwe-
sun (Bossa Ahadi). Turning an angle we debouched
upon the palm leaf fence, denoting the new gate of the
present King, which, according to custom, he is expected
to complete. Near it is another large shed, known as
We then reached the Grande Place of Agbome, the
scene of Gezo's displays and receptions, but neglected
1 According to the History, the war-order of the King to his Gau
was to " thatch his house," and in those days human skulls ware
placed on the roofs of the sheds at the palace doors. None of the
natives knew the phrase, which is perhaps obsolete. The Komasi
Palace, built by Gezo, is quite free from this manner of ornamenta-
2 A skull minaret. After a massacre, the heads were built up
with lime into a kind of tower, the Oriental modification of our con-
temporary hanging in chains.
196 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dakome.
by the present King. The aspect reminded me of the
History's description, " An assemblage of farmyards with
long thatched barns." Of these there were about a dozen,
large and small, intended to shelter the soldiery. As
usual, a few shady trees, chiefly the thick-leaved ficus,
relieved the baldness of the view. On the N.E. side,
springing from the enceinte, was the Singbo, or two-
storied house built by King Gezo, and his favourite place of
residence. Covered with a pent-roof thatch, the walls
were of clay, whose redness blushed through the thin
coat of chalk acting whitewash, and the front was pierced
for eight windows with large shutters of pale-green, and
small wickets. The doorway was un-European, a dwarf
barn of Dahoman fashion, and we found there three
umbrellas, white, blue, and pink, the former belonging to
the Governor of the Palace.
This dignitary is an old servant of Gezo, once the
Kan-gbo-de, or King's store-keeper, but degraded, as has
been said, for presuming to ride up to the royal gate. He
is now known as Kpon-ne-mi " Look for me ! " Ac-
cording to custom we dismounted before this palace.
The fat old man, in brass bracelets and pink checked
cloth, prostrated himself in front of the gate, whilst we
stood and bowed to it. He then snapped fingers, and
returning to the half-opened door, whispered in consul-
tation with some of the female inmates. Presently he
returned with the formula, " That the King's wife, hav-
ing inquired about every one in England, desired us to
go and eat, after which we should have her message."
Leaving the Singbo, we passed on the right another
huge barn entrance to the enceinte, supported by four-
teen mud pillars, and called Adan-jro-'ko-de. 1 It shelters
i Adan (brave), jro (likes), ako (family, tribe), de (any one).
Meaning, if any people be brave and like (to fight, let them come
and take Dahome). Commander Forbes spoils all this fine senti-
ment in his " Dangeh la Cordah."
X. The March to Agbome. 197
the two howitzers presented to the late Gezo by the
French Government ; they are not better treated than
the English presents at Abeokuta. Under a tree in the
square-centre is a curious relic of the past a fine brass
gun, gone in the touch-hole, and bearing as inscription,
" Dordrect, 1640 Coenraet Wegewaert me fecit." It is
therefore almost coeval with the Dahoman kingdom.
The broad road on the south of the Agbome palace
was now lined with gazers, and the Court being at Kana
we did not suffer from the bell-women, the peculiar
plague of the place. Advancing, we turned another
abrupt angle, and, facing west, passed on the left to the
roomy and comparatively comfortable house of Prince
Chyudaton, where the luckier French lodge. A few
doors further placed us at the Buko-no's establishment-
cow-houses, ultra-Arcadian in their simplicity of which
the first sight was enough. These people so dearly love
domesticity that they make their houses prisons to all
inside, where there is no possibility of privacy. From
within you see only tall red walls, with perhaps a few
tree tops, and thatch roofs above and beyond it, making
the saddest impression upon a lover of liberty. On the
other hand, every word uttered can be heard throughout
the building, thus securing, as in a ship, the two greatest
and opposite undesirables. It is evident that the King,
unlike him of Ashanti, does not visit the "strangers'
quarters and drink palm-wine with them. 1
The establishment lies to the west of the Agbome
palace, insulated as usual, and the parallelogram of about
300 ft. each way is not quite square with the cardinal
points, our principal room fronting E. S. East. The
enceinte is bisected by a high wall with a single door,
which is carefully closed at night. Our landlord and his
many wives are to the eastward of us ; we could hear the
i Nor is it at present "etiquette" for the King of Dahome to
visit even his highest officers.
198 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
laughter of these merry dames, but only one old specimen
ever leaves the house by that door. We occupy the
western half, lately vacated by Sedozau, a son of the
King, and the first item of two sets of twins presented
to royalty by the she-Yevogan, who thus took the initia-
tive in making him a father. We entered by a southern
gateway with the customary thatch : in aftertimes the
King's Dr. Dee was ever hanging it with his superstitious
frippery. The door was a screen of bamboo fronds with
native hinges, a pole working in wooden cups. This
entrance led into a kind of outer court, containing only a
shed for the hammock-men, who left it uncleaned for two
months. An opposite doorway opened upon the back-
yard, a mixture of filth and fetish of which more presently.
Another adit through a wall to the right led to our private
quarters : it had fortunately a stout wooden planking,
which we closed when privacy was desirable.
Our lodging was a barn 45 feet long, by 27 feet deep.
A thick thatch, like the East Indian chappar, descended
within 4-50 feet of the ground, and rested on a double
line of strong posts buried in the earth. The north-
eastern angle of the roof formed a kind of false gable, or
single pavilion wing like the Kobbi of Abeokuta, here
called " kho-zwe," or house-corner. The verandah had
an earth-step, some eight inches high, to keep out the
rain, with a descent to the floor of tamped earth. The
low ceiling was of rough sticks, plastered, like the walls,
After the verandah we entered the " hall," an apart-
ment 20 feet by 10. On the left was an earthern estrade,
about thirty inches high, a sleeping platform for domestic
servants. In front was a small dark room, hot to the
last degree, as are all places in this country where the
wind cannot penetrate. I at once knocked a window
through the back wall of clay, which was two feet thick,
provided it with a shutter made out of a claret case, and
X. The March to Agbome. 199
turned it into a tolerable study. Attached to it was a
dark and windowless store-room, whence the "drivers"
sallied out once a week ; having, however, a door, a lock,
and a key, it saved us many a gallon of rum and bag of
cowries. On the right of the hall and study were two
small dark rooms, and, lastly, an open verandah occupied
the whole depth of the house under the false gable ; it
had in one corner a raised earth-rim for a balneary,
and a drain to draw off the water. Opposite this veran-
dah a strip of courtyard was divided by a jealous party
wall from the Buko-no's quarters.
The front court, facing to the E. S.East, commanded
a view of the top of a pollarded calabash, and a blasted
tree upon which the early vultures prospected for carrion.
The back yard 1 contained sundry heaps of offal, the
"cook-houses," and the lares of the young prince, who
had been given by his father to the Buko-no, with the
object of learning medicine, and perhaps of preventing
poison. I must describe them at some length to show
the intricate practical worship of this people. Shortly
after my arrival, hearing my velleite for curiosities, even
under sacrilegious circumstances, two fetish youths made
their appearance in the evening, knelt down before the
domestic altar, prayed, broke some of the images, and
went away declaring that they had called out the fetish,
and that I might, after this evocatio deorum, do my worst.
Similarly we removed all the fetish from the lodging-
house, and the Buko-no only laughed this was en regie :
of course we could not have turned it out of his.
The roof of the Bo-kho, Bo-temple, or Lararium, had
been allowed to fall, exposing the worshipful inmates to
every weather. There were two sets of grotesque figures
ranged in a row opposite one another. That to the south
numbered six. i. A bit of iron-stone clay stuck round
with feathers, and planted on a swish clay step a couple
i Here called Kho-gudu," the " Ipaka" of the Egbas.
200 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
of inches high. 2. A little Bo-doll, in a cullender or
perforated pot. 3. An earthenware basin with a circular
base, surrounded with the Azan or fetish palm-girdle,
and the Asen (Sein ?), or Twin-iron * stuck in the ground
before it. 4. A Nlon-gbo, or sheep fetish, very easily
confounded with 5. An Avun, or canine, provided with
any number of claws. Finally, No. 6 was an awful look-
ing human face in alto-relief, flat upon its base, a swish
square, with a short stake planted behind it, three small
earthen pots rising from its wrinkled forehead ; its huge
gape of cowrie teeth, and eyes of the same set, in red
clay, were right well calculated to frighten away, as it is
intended to do, witchcraft from the devotee.
The other set occupied three sides of the dwarf roof-
less hut ruin, and embraced everything necessary for
man's welfare. A red clay kpakpa, or duck, 2 with a line
of feathers round its neck, and an artificial tail, if duly
adored, makes the prayerful strong. A Bo male image,
half black half white, even to the wool, and hung with a
necklace of beasts' skulls ; with a pair of Hoho-zen, or
twin pots, two little double pipkins of red clay, big pipe-
bowls, united like the Siamese twins, and covered with
white-washed lids to guard the water offering, would
protect Sedozau and his brother from the ills to which
twin-flesh is heir. There was also a So-hwe, or " stick-
beat," a wooden stump eighteen inches high and eight
inches in diameter, wrapped in old palm-leaf and dirty
calico, with a string of cowries hanging from its sooty
summit, and an Achatina shell on the higher of the two
dwarf steps forming its base. If a stone be struck upon
the top of this invaluable article the enemy certainly
1 It is formed of two iron cones, cymbal-shaped, and very like
the extinguisher of a- candle, fastened to a single stem six inches
long. It is generally planted in a lump of clay behind the Hoho
pots, which will presently be explained, and thus forms a domestic
2 Clearly an onomatopcetic word, like our " Quack."
X. The March to Agbomc. 201
sickens and dies. Defence against disease was secured
by a clay parallelogram, puddinged half with cowries and
half with pottery-bits stuck edgeways, and supporting an
Asen-iron and an Asiovi or fetish axe ; by a red clay lio-
man with a beard of poultry feathers and the left side
stuck with fragments of earthenware ; and by a Bo-pot
containing a heap of black earth rising to a ball and
supporting a fetish iron. Proper respect for the rainbow
was shown by the presence of its favourite ceramic, 1 con-
taining a clay snake, with two small red feathers for horns.
Finally, there was a pair of "Iro" or philters, which,
rubbed on after the bath, obtain from man loan of moneys,
from woman the don d'amoureusc tncrci: the one was a pot,
the other a calabash, full of filthy-looking grease, capped
by the skulls of a dog and of some other animal, one to
For the distances and other peculiarities of the road
between Whydah and Agbome, the reader is referred to
Appendix I. It may be observed that the length of the
journey has shrunk, with wonderful regularity, to the pre-
sent year. Mr. Lamb (1724) gives 200 miles from the port
to the capital; Mr. Norris (1772), 112 miles ; Mr. Dalzel
(1793), 96 miles ; Commander Forbes (1849), 90 miles;
Commodore Wilmot (1863), 65 miles ; the general opinion
being 75 miles.' 2 I found (1864), by meridional observa-
tions of Sirius, a djrect distance of 51 and one-sixth geo-
graphical miles between the beach-town Whydah and the
English house, whilst my sketch map gave 62 to 63 in-
1 For a more detailed notice of these pots each deity has its
own the curious reader will consult chapter xvii.
2 M. Borghero (1861) made 150 indirect kilometres to Kana, but
he passed round the longer Toffo road. M. Jules Gerard (1863)
reckoned fifty indirect English statute miles from Whydah to Kana.
THE KING ENTERS HIS CAPITAL.
Our arrival at the unpleasant domicile which was to
be our home for nearly two months was a signal for the
Buko-no Uro to begin operations. 1 This belle tete de mort
craved an audience, and, after the customary "ambages,"
requested me to open before him the four boxes of presents
forwarded by Her Majesty's Government. His object
was to secure the first news for the royal ears, hoping
thereby excuse the phrase to curry a little favour.
The boxes had been stored in his own magazine ; how-
ever, I of course refused to touch them, except inside the
palace, and I told him to meddle with them at his peril.
He pleaded usage, and the custom of the country. I re-
joined that it was a false plea, the present being the first
mission from Her Majesty's Government to the King,
consequently that there could be no precedent. Hoping,
however, thereby to exert some influence in the matter of
human sacrifice, I read out my " Message," as instruc-
tions are locally called, and regretted to receive only the
stereotyped replies. The Buko-no, however, was duly
warned, that if any attempt was made to put to death
victims in our presence, it would be the signal for our
return to Whydah. Which was, of course, duly reported.
The next day, December 21, was to witness the
King's ceremonious return to his capital. At noon, a
i The second is a Bo name, belonging to his father.
XI. The King enters his Capital. 203
dusty-browed messenger rushed in, saying that royalty
was approaching ; and we heard cannon-shots, denoting
that the King was halted at the Adan-blon-noten, receiv-
ing the homage of his war chiefs. The Buko-no ordered
out his horse and " tail," and presently came in a green
sheet to fetch his strangers. I was taken in for the first,
and not the last, time before the day of our dismissal.
The fact is, this veteran so believed in the usage of
Dahome, that he considered us to be, like other white men,
during our residence at the capital, mere slaves of the
King. I flatter myself that when we left he had greatly
modified that opinion. On this occasion, our uniforms
having been left at Kana, we were compelled to wear the
ordinary mourning attire of Englishmen when they want
to be merry. As the King approved of this proceeding, I
resolved for the future to confine uniform to the more
ceremonious occasions within the palace.
We rode in our hammocks by a short cut, instead of
down the broad south-western road, flanking the Agbome
Palace. The sun was deadly, not being tempered by the
sea-breeze, which, at this season, rarely blows before
three P.M. We then turned southwards, along a large
thoroughfare, towards the Akochyo-'gbo-nun gate. 1 These
streets are formed, like those of Whydah, by the walls
of the habitations, thus giving them a populous look:
they are, however, mere shams, and forest-bush rises
close behind them. On the right there is an open space,
with a 10 iron-gun battery scattered upon the ground.
We furled our umbrellas, and, dismounting, marched
through the gate, a gap in an incontinuous wall, like that
before described. It opened upon the Uhun-jro' 2 market,
a broad space, whence the huts had been cleared, and
1 Ako (tribe, family), chyo (all), agbo'nun (gate) ; meaning, that
all the world must come to visit Dahome.
2 Uhun-jro, or Uhun-jlo, is derived from the fact that a bombax
from a conquered place was there transplanted by Gezo.
204 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
where men were raising a scaffold of tree trunks, barked,
and rudely squared. On the other side was the tattered
wall of the royal precincts : the lowest of the five courses
of mud masonry was much injured by contact with the
ground. Passing under a scatter of trees, where women
were seated, vending edibles, we remarked a man standing
gagged, 1 in front of a drummer, and we were told that he
was a criminal, left for* execution at the next Customs.
Here the pace was quickened (it is not respectful to pass
the Palace except in a hurry), and a summons from the
King must be obeyed with ostentatious alacrity. On the
left of the road, and distinguished by the careful sweeping
of the space in front, is a large fetish-house, a long shed,
called Nesu-hwe, and dedicated to Nesu, the peculiar
Dahoman fetish, the tutelary numen of the empire.
Turning to the south, we dismounted, as the rule is,
at the south-eastern corner of the Komasi Palace, built,
as I have said, by King Gezo. We passed the Komasi
gate, the usual barn, with twenty-seven wooden posts,
and with the two stunted and pollarded trees forming,
with a bamboo, the forca, common to every palace gate.
To the cross-pieces hung the normal Jo-susu, a little
square mat, with narrow perpendicular stripes, alternately
red and black, and a calabash, painted in ruddy and
whitey-red speckled sections, like those of a melon,
and by bundles of Bo-so, freshly painted Bo-sticks or
truncheons, at each side, completed the defences of the
entrance. From this the ruler will issue to perform the
Customs, and his seat will be a little to the proper right
of the door. 2 At the time only a few men and women
soldiery, with tall white bonnets, like Sepoys' shakoes in
1 The instrument is a Y-shaped stick ; the sharp end touches the
palate, whilst the fork embraces the tongue, so that the criminal,
however much he may suffer, cannot cry out. The gag is used,
because, if a man speak to the King, he must be pardoned.
2 I thereby mean the left side, as one stands opposite it.
XI. The King enters his Capital. 205
former times, lounged at the gate. Thence, guided by
the Buko-no, whose band was never silent, we went to a
tall tree, near the Agwaji, or southern gate; a large
thatch, with sixteen mud pillars; and we placed our stools
under its thin shade, witnessing the usual dancing.
The space about the Palace is clear, as in Great
Benin ; but here there are no strews of skulls and skele-
tons. The only fragment of a man was a cranium, nailed
together with a white flag to the trunk, under the lowest
boughs of a large tree opposite the Komasi gate. As
usual in Yoruba towns, where they build loosely to avoid
the fires which annually devastate elbowing Lagos, the
open space in which the multitude will gather for the
Customs was scattered over with palms, calabashes, and
figs, with a natural ablaqueation, their roots having been
bared by rain. There were, besides two mean fetish-
houses, only three remarkable objects in it. The first
was a scaffolding, gradually rising, opposite the palace.
The next was the Adanzan, a round house, with rough
posts, supporting a conical thatch roof, capped with a
white pennon. The two opposite entrances were each
flanked by two small sentinel huts, with clay walls, and
shaped somewhat like old bee-hives. The interior showed
two flights, each of eight mud steps, barred against
intruders, and the interior was concealed by screens of
matting. Before campaigning, the King here swears, in
the presence of his soldiery, what he will do, and listens to
their terrible boasting of valour. On such occasions, the
roof and screens are removed. 1 The third was a fine Bom-
bax, enclosed in a dwarf mud wall, and called Bwekon-uhun,
the Bwe-kon cotton-wood, under which Gezo used to sit
before he built the Komasi Palace. The name Bwe-kon, 2
1 This was a ceremony introduced by King Gezo. I was told that
the present King keeps it up, but during my stay at Agbome it was
2 Bwe (happy), kon (living).
206 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
meaning a happy or auspicious spot, is also applied to the
large southern and detached suburb, divided from the
royal house by the open space, and by three wall-less
sheds, where the troops sit. It contains the Bwe-kon
Hwe-'gbo, or big house, built by Agongoro (Wheenoohew).
The other tenements are those of men about Court, and
many Aja and Takpa 1 captives are settled here. Beyond
Bwe-kon, again, is the Jegbe Palace, of which more here-
We observed the place narrowly, on account of its
connection with the coming executions. Long strings of
people, especially women, who apparently do little else,
were passing to and fro, carrying on their heads monstrous
baskets and calabashes, " wide as the old Winchester
bushel," with food for their mistresses the soldieresses.
Shortly after i P.M. two umbrellas, white and pink, pre-
ceded by musketeers, announced the arrival of Agbota,
senior Governor of Whe-gbo, and of Azogbe, his lieu-
tenant. They rode followed by four red caps, the Porto
Novian " alufas " : the latter seated themselves a little to
our right, under the same tree, but not on chairs.
The next move was the approach of five musketeers
bringing provision from the King; one basket containing
" Akansan " in leaves, and a bowl of palm stew, the other
full of papaws and oranges. Guests are rationed from
the palace during their stay in Agbome, where it is almost
impossible to buy a sufficiency of food even for a small
party ; but the allowance, which is at first liberal, soon
waxes small by degrees, especially after the presents are
given, and ends in semi-starvation. The King is, doubt-
less unaware of this proceeding, which all agree comes
from the women officials to whom the royal order has
been issued : perhaps, when the time ofdisetteis setting in,
a bribe to the " English mother" would put off the evil
day. Other slaves then came up, bringing the card-table
i Chapter xxi.
XI. The King enters his Capital. 207
and the old liqueur-case, wherein we found something
withal to pass the time. But it is with potables here as
with edibles; the stranger begins with the best in the
cellar, and ends with trade gin and rum. We soon found
the necessity of being accompanied by a little canteen, the
gift of my amiable and enterprising friend, Paul du
Chaillu ; and it rendered us true service.
Presently, riding a little nag, as if on a side saddle,
and shaded by an umbrella hat of woven palm leaves,
came the Prince Chyudaton, sucking the usual lettuce
leaf, and accompanied by the normal retinue. He lay
down on a mat beside his old friend the Buko-no, for
whom he entertains a supreme contempt, regarding him,
from the proud stand-point of his own civilization, as an
ancient bushman who knows nothing of the whites. They
ate some " Akansan," and drank water, of which these
people always carry a store in bottles, covered, for cool-
ness, with quilted jackets. After joining us in a glass of
the royal liquor, they propped their heads on their foot-
stools and slept the Dahoman practice to while away
time. A lately captured Abeokutan was brought before
us ; he danced, and seemed to anticipate " capital fun."
This is a proof, if one be required, that in Dahome all
male adult captives are not killed or sold, and we after-
wards saw many of his brotherhood.
At 3.45 P.M., after causing us to sit three mortal
hours these people have no bowels of compassion a
long line of flags and umbrellas, debouching from the
eastern road, 1 formed in masses at the other end of the
open space, somewhat as in a theatre. Then, with the
braying of trumpets and the beating of drums, they began
to pass round in review order. The right shoulder is pre-
sented to the King's gate, the Pradakshina of the Hindus,
opposed to the Arab Tawaf, or circumambulation, which
turns the left side to a venerated object ; and we shall
i The southern entrance is sometimes preferred.
208 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
observe this in all future processions. The Captains
danced and skipped like the Salii, their attendants firing
and skirmishing before them. As is customary, the
juniors came first, five warriors and worthies of the King
leading the rest. 1 They were followed by the Po-su, the
" place " of the Matro, and the Gau, in a black felt, riding
a "tattoo," and accompanied by his agminal umbrella,
of red, blue, and buff colours. Followed three caboocers, 2
and two of the King's half-brothers, Bosu Sau and Nuage.
The 1 5th was Assoyon, under a white umbrella, with
twelve men dancing and sham-fighting before him ; fol-
lowed by Assogban and Akhokhwe, a half-brother of the
King, with a fancy umbrella and an escort of seventeen
men. Two other caboceers 3 preceded the place of Chyu-
daton, who was sitting with us, and the 2ist 4 umbrella
ushered in the Bi- wan-ton, a man with a pleasant expres-
sion, whose escort was a fancy umbrella and ten men.
The Adanejan, habited in a red and blue tunic, and rid-
ing, woman-like, a little pony, was preceded by sixty men.
firing and dancing, accompanied by plain red and white
fancy flags, and followed, like most of the others, by his
big drum on a man's head, another beating it from be-
hind, as if braining it.
After a short pause, the old Adukonun, a brother of
the late king, advanced, followed by the Tokpau, a war
chief, who fired his gun from the shoulder, under an um-
brella speckled white and blue. The 26th party, that of
the Awobi, preceded the Yevo-gan of Whydah with a
French tricolour, a white umbrella, and an escort of fifty
men : he rode, and waved hands to us as he passed.
Four other worthies ushered in the highest official of the
1 Viz., the Aloghan, Akpi, Dokhenun, Akati, and Ahwibame.
2 Viz., the Kade, Jogbwenun, and Apwejekun.
3 Viz., the Akho, with a fancy umbrella and fourteen men, and
the Ukwenun, with a white umbrella and nineteen men.
4 Viz., the Tokonun-vissau, who was on horseback.
A7. The King enters his Capital. 209
empire, the senior Min-gan. His dress was a war-tunic
and a Lagos smoking-cap ; with pipe in mouth he rode a
nag handsomely caparisoned, under a white fancy um-
brella. He was numerously escorted, and was followed
by a big drum, and by rattles, discoursing hideous music.
Being a man of the old school, he studiously avoided
looking towards us, lest he might be compelled to salute.
The lesser chiefs, after passing once round the square,
if I may so call it, crossed, and formed a line of umbrellas
opposite the Komasi gateway. The high dignitaries per-
formed their circuits in the order before described, the Min-
gan immediately preceding the 33rd party, which was
that of the King.
The royal cortege consisted of about 500 musketeers
and blunderbuss men : it was preceded by skirmishers,
under the command of Adan-men-nun-kon, " Blue" Cap-
tain. They were accompanied by one skull standard,
and eight flags, white, red, anchor-marked, and fancy ;
and they were followed by two gorgeous umbrellas. Im-
mediately in front of the King were borne two leather
shields, sections of cylinders, white, with black patterns,
upraised horizontally at the full length of the bearer's arm.
They are a remnant of the old days, when the Dahoman
soldiery was armed with muskets, cutting swords, and
shields ; the latter carried by boy squires, of whom one
was told off for training to each man-at-arms. The
weapon is now looked upon as a kind of aegis. Near the
shields stalked two big " bold dragoons," in brass helmets
and huge black horse-tails. 1 They had guns as long as
spears. Behind them, in a white calico case, and capped
with a snowy plume, the iron Bo-fetish stick, called
" kafo," announced the presence of royalty. The King
rode under four white umbrellas ; and three parasols,
i Mr. Norris mentions a troop of forty women, with silver
helmets : such wealth has long disappeared. A French merchant
presented to King Gezo 100 brilliant casques of pompiers.
VOL. I. 14
210 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
yellow, purple, and blue-red, were waved and twisted over
him, to act as fans. When he passed before us, exchang-
ing salutes, there was the usual " Tohu wa Bohu," a
frantic rush, filling the air with red dust, a swarming of
men around him, " riotously and routously," and a feu
d'enfer from their weapons. Following a huge fetish axe
came the band, mostly boys, whose thirty rattles, thirty
cymbals, and dozens of drums, added their din to the
wildness of the spectacle. A crowd of slaves then ap-
peared, laden with large Gold Coast chairs, boxes and
baskets of cowries, bottles, decanters, and other arti-
cles : in fact, it was the commissariat, with a suspicion of
bakhshish or largesse. The rear was brought up by two
shabby war-umbrellas, white and blue, whilst a tattered
flag announced the arrie re-garde.
The King went round twice, in an antiquated red-
lined vehicle, a mongrel between a cab and a brougham.
It was drawn by men, who, at the third circuit, raised it
upon their shoulders : the African labourer will do the
same with his wheelbarrow. The fourth and fifth tours
were made in a Bath chair, a late present from a com-
mittee of English philanthropes ; the sixth time it was
carried aloft, like the carriage. The royal circuits are
usually three ; the extraordinary number was possibly in-
tended to afford me an opportunity of " booking " the pro-
cession ; besides which, the ruler, being young, is, as will
be remarked throughout the Customs, fond of change.
The King pressed his mouth with a thick kerchief, to keep
out the dust. As an old traveller says of the Whydah
monarch, " he seems of a good free temper, and full of
mirth and kindness, especially when he intends to beg a
boon." This day he looked wearied and cross, an ex-
pression not unfrequent upon the brow of royalty in all
lands. We must consider, however, that he went a total
of ten circuits of the square, representing some five miles
of dust and din. We were afterwards informed that he
XL The King enters his Capital. 211
had been slightly indisposed at Kana : but had positively
refused to break an appointment with his " white friend."
Illness is rare with him: M. Wallon says he was sickly
in youth ; despite reports he shows no traces of debility
now. It is wonderful to see the amount of labour which
he endures in the form of pleasure, and the cheerfulness
which he maintains under his enjoyments : he seldom
misses a day in public, and he ends by tiring out the
When the male chiefs and soldiery had made their
sixth round, they joined the line of umbrellas on the
south-east of the square. The King then transferred
himself and his most gorgeous canopies to the Amazonry,
which was massed at the mouth of the eastern road.
Presently, preceded by skirmishers, firing, and ringing
their sharp bells, the women, forming three corps, that
they might appear the more numerous, dashed into the
square. The first brigade was that of the she-Ming-an,
four white umbrellas and two flags : some were in parade
uniform, others in their travelling garb brown tunics.
This small party was followed by its band, and, at a short
distance, by the twenty-one umbrellas and the five flags
of the she-Meu's troop, concluding with their music.
After three turns, dancing, singing, and firing muskets
and blunderbusses, they retired to the east of the palace.
The royal body-guard, called the Fanti, 1 now appeared
upon the stage. Their skirmishers, young women in high
training, performed with great agility. Then came
twelve fancy flags, escorted by half a dozen razor women,
who were followed by a platter, containing a calabash
adorned with skulls. Immediately before the King were
two crimson leather shields, held up as the others were by
the men. The Monarch was carried by twelve women,
in a hammock of yellow silk, hanging from a pole, about
i Or Gold Coast Corps, in somewhat better discipline than the
late unlamented G.C.A.
212 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
thirteen feet long, black, set with silver sharks, and shod at
both ends with brass. Three royal umbrellas, blue, red,
and yellow, defended him from the sun, and he was fanned
by three parasols, which were not the same as before.
Again we remarked amongst this people the inordinate
hankering after change, novelty, and originality, even in
the most trivial matters, and the failure which results
from their poverty of, or rather their deficiency in, inven-
tion. After the royal hammock came the bands rattles,
cymbals, and drums with two white umbrellas ; and the
rear was brought up by the baskets and baggage of the
commissariat, and by the flags of the arriere garde.
After the King had made four circuits, the beginning
of the end was shown by the old To-no-nun crouching
near our table. " It" was dressed in a blue velvet cap, a
blanket jacket, and cotton tights, and " it " looked more
like a guenon than a human. Gelele halted opposite us,
and sundry of the elder Dakros brought for us four large
coloured decanters of rum, and small bottles of trade
liqueur, which were received by the chief eunuch.
Strangers are sometimes addressed personally at the end of
these parades. On the present occasion, fatigue, souring
temper, abridged ceremony. The King and Fanti cortege
then stood aggrouped to the west of the square, where a
heavy salute of blunderbusses was fired. They finally
passed round to the east, and slowly defiled through the
Komasi gate, folding their umbrellas, in token that the
" play " was done. The men soldiers indulged in a frantic
carrousel opposite the palace, furiously dragging the empty
old brougham round and round, shouting, screaming, and
firing their weapons like madmen. We waited till the
square was clear of women, and at 5.45 P.M. we retired
from the Laus-Perennis of row and riot, with the usual
finale to a Dahoman parade a headache. Our guides,
the Buko-no and the Prince Chyudaton, retired to break-
THE PRESENTS ARE DELIVERED.
AT night a violent tornado, whose sheets of flying
water could hardly be called rain, and a heavy shower in
the morning, convinced our hosts that we were " good
men, whose palaver would be soft as water, not hot as
fire." The next day (December 22) ought to have been
one of rest, but the King could not curb his impatience to
see the presents sent by Her Majesty's Government. A
final attempt to make me open the boxes was vainly made
by the Buko-no, who then forwarded them under protest
to the palace. I could see, however, by his face that the
absence of certain highly coveted articles had been re-
ported, and had excited royal dissatisfaction. Our offer-
ing 1 to the King and to the Knglish mother- 5 whom,
1 We presented to the King : And to the English Mother :
i picture. i fathom silk kerchief.
1 box French perfumery. i piece figured calico
2 pieces merinoes. (Madras),
i piece crimson silk.
i silk kerchief,
i case curac.oa
i dozen coloured glass tumblers.
Mr. Bernasko gave to the King : To the Buko-no :-
i carpet. IO >' ards silk -
i case of liqueur. i Piece Madras,
i piece blue Danes. 2 silk kerchiefs.
i pair razors.
Sundry other presents of cloth must be given to the landlord and
to the chief officers. These, however, I reserved for the exit.
2 At the Court of Dahome every man must have at least one
mother, and she may be twenty years his junior. The King's actual
parent is now alive ; when she departs, he must supply her place by
214 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
by-the-bye I have never seen were at once shown and
given over to the Buko-no, as a matter of little moment.
At 10.15 A ' M< we se * ou t to the Komasi Palace, and
placed our chairs opposite the Agwaji gate. Presently
Prince Chyudaton, after prostrating, shovelling dust, and
kissing the ground, before the Komasi entrance, under the
tree with the ominous fruit, joined us. The party was
completed by the Buko-no, who issued from the palace,
by the fat Adanejan, and by the Bi-wanton, or junior
Meu, who acts as the Master of Ceremonies in the
absence of his principal. These worthies were in poor
" Hausa tobes,." showing that we were not likely to see
royalty that day.
After waiting causelessly half an hour, we received
a summons to enter. Removing our uniform caps, we
passed through the Gate of Tears into a deep, gloomy
barn, so dark that we could hardly distinguish the two
characteristic features, women selling provisions on the
right, and on the left Gezo's immense war-drum, chapletted
with skulls. 1 The inner court, which we were fated to
learn by heart, bore a family resemblance to that of Kana.
Here, however, the westerly side was a partially white-
washed royal store-house for cloth, cowries, and rum the
notes, silver, and copper of the country. At its northern
selection. For each monarch in the dynasty there is, as will be seen,
an old woman mother. The " mothers " of the high officials are the
corresponding honours. For instance, the she-Min-gan is popu-
larly called the " he- Min-gan' smother." Many have two "mothers,"
an old one for the last, and a young one for the present reign.
Visitors communicate with the "mothers" of their several nations.
As will be seen, " mothers " is the official title of the "Amazons "-
hence the custom.
i This, the national oriflamme, is called Nuw (with a very nasal N,
sounding like Nu, a thing), u (that), pwe (able), to (he that does). It
is a title assumed by King Gezo, and meaning, " He is able to do
anything he likes." As will be seen, it was first taken by him when
he imported from England a carriage and horses, and it is applied to
a cloth, and to other articles of Dahoman vanity.
XII. The Presents are delivered. 215
extremity, a rough ladder led to an immense boarded-up
window in the second story, and giving to the whole the
appearance of a grange. At the bottom of the court was
the usual thatched barn, like the men's guard-house out-
side ; and four white, with three tulip-tinted, umbrellas,
showed the King's place. The square was scattered over
with trees and fetish. On the right side were five Legbas
under one little thatch. To the left rose four fetish huts,
each containing a dwarf whitewashed idol. The most
remarkable figure, a Janus, composed of two naked bodies
joined a tergo, was made of dark clay, with glaring white
eyes, and two pair of antlers, bending inwards. Probably
this "Auld Hornie " has been borrowed from the Por-
tuguese idea of Sathanas.
The list of presents has been given in the Preface.
1 may be allowed to say of them a few words.
1. The tent was found to be too small, and, indeed,
to sit under it for an hour would have been hardly
possible. We were obliged to pitch it with our own
hands, which evinced complication, and, in a land of white
ants, metal, not wooden, pegs were required, as Mr.
Edgington, whose cards fell in a shower from the boxes,
should have known. The article was handsome, more so,
perhaps, than anything belonging to the King ; yet t lie-
only part of it admired was the gingerbread lion on the
2. The pipe was never used, Gelele preferring, for
lightness, his old red clay and wooden stem.
3. The belts caused great disappointment : all the
officials declared that bracelets had been mentioned to
Commodore Wilmot. Africans are offended if their wishes
are not exactly consulted, and they mulishly look upon
any such small oversight as an intended slight.
4. The silver waiters were very much admired, and
their use was diligently inquired into.
5. The coat of mail was found too heavy ; and, as it
216 A Mission to Gelelc, King of Dahomc.
will certainly be hung up, fired at, and broken by the
King, a common cuirass would have been better. The
gauntlet was too small, and, like the former article, not
But what about the carriage and horses ?
I vainly for the dozenth time explained the difficulty
of sending them. It was disposed of ajt once with con-
summate coolness. Carriages had been brought, and
could come again. If the horses died upon the beach at
Whydah, no matter. King Gezo, after obtaining an
equipage, had taken the strong name Nun-u-pwe-to, and
the son burned to emulate the sire. My hints touching
the propriety of some concession, on their part, in the
cause of humanity, were as cavalierly ignored.
A few words touching presents to African princes,
the sole object of whose foreign friendship is to obtain
them, and with whom those who pay the highest are, and
ever will be, the most powerful. I have already men-
tioned one requisite for contenting them, namely, attending
to their wishes. A second and a third are, that the gifts
should be rich and showy, or, at least, well assortis, 1 and
that they should not come too often. It is commonly
supposed in England, that anything is good enough for a
barbarian ; and I have seen presents sent out which a
West -African chief would hardly think of giving to his
i In Dahome, for instance, at the present time : A silver liqueur-
case, with six bottles, each labelled, and a dozen strong and orna-
mented glasses ; a pair of portable mahogany tables, about three feet
in diameter ; a dozen good chairs for guests : they must be of iron, or
they will be broken in a month ; a strong lantern for night use ; Eng-
lish Union Jacks, and other flags the bigger and gaudier the better.
On one occasion the King sent me a message, that he vehemently
wanted some large banners inscribed with Her Majesty's august name.
Finally, all these African kings, from Gelele to Rumanika of Karagwah,
are delighted with children's toys, gutta-percha faces, Noah's Arks ; in
fact, what would be most acceptable to a child^if Q ight "'hirh tJir
iiggj-4. Unfortunately, I could find none upon the coast, where
they are used only in the Batanga ivory trade.
XII. The Presents are delivered. 217
slave. The old days of the traite familiarized the higher
ranks with a kind of magnificence, and they have not for-
At Dahome, everything given to the King is carried
to the palace during the hours of darkness, and is con-
cealed with care from the multitude. On the other hand,
the meanest article presented by him, after being paraded
round the square, that the King's munificence may be
known to the whole world, is sent in state to the happy
recipient's house. Under these circumstances, it is some
satisfaction to know that the " dash " in these regions,
like the bribe in Asia, is omnipotent.
On the present occasion, the King never even uttered
an expression of gratitude. Mis disappointment soon
pierced through his politeness, which was barely retained
by a state of feeling best expressed in our popular adage,
" Better luck next time," especially in the matter of an
English carriage and horses.
When the tent had been pitched, the other boxes
were carried by three juvenile captainesses under the King's
barn-verandah, and we were summoned by the old slave
women to open them. Despite their respect, and almost
adoration, for the royal person, all the barbarian officially
present made trial of the pipe and of the gauntlets. They
asked us to do the same, when 1 informed them that such
was not our idea of respect to crowned heads. The
young Amazons presently bore the gifts into the interior,
carefully closing the door, a huge, rudely cut board,
carved into a human head, with stripes for hair, a face,
and a knife, with other fetish objects, stuck about it.
The messengers brought us water and Akansan bread, 1
which my companions mixed with the element. A bottle
of Medoc was produced from the royal cellar : it was
i See chapter v. This custom of placing a table before the
visitor with " plenty of refreshment, both of solids and liquids," was
practised by King Gezo. Mr. Duncan, vol. i. p. 243.
218 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
lukewarm, and far too sour to drink. Yet I have no
doubt but that it was bought with gold. This is the
inevitable result of trading with slavers, who sell the
worst of everything for the highest prices ; the refuse of
European markets for a cargo which, if successful, fetches
ten times its cost price. Upon this subject the Daho-
mans have not been blinded; but, like children, they want
to eat and to keep their pudding, to combine the profits
of illicit with the benefits of licit commerce, and the con-
stant formula is, that what white men have done, white
men must undo.
Presently the young women returned, bearing the
royal request that we would withdraw to our former place
under the thin tamarind. This was to enable the " King's
wives" to inspect the tent without approaching too near
us. The Amazons again disappeared to report, and they
soon brought back a dismissal decanter of rum, with the
evil tidings that my "Message" would be heard at
At 1-15 P.M. we retired, after the unusually short
corvee of three hours. The rain-sun was dangerous when
it broke through the clouds, despite occasional puffs of
cool sea-breeze. We entered the house in time to escape
a heavy storm from the east, rising against the lower wind.
It had all the characteristics of a tornado, rattling, crack-
ling thunder, with prolonged electric crepitations ; vivid,
rose-coloured, forked lightning appearing to lick the earth
with the tip of its fiery tongue ; and gusts, that tore
the thatched roofs from the houses, and sounded like dis-
charges of artillery. Parenthetically, we hardly ever had
a shower without these displays of electricity, and the
Whydah men characteristically complained that I had
brought them too near heaven. Rain fell in lozenges,
like the cross-hatching of engravers' shadows, and after-
wards in perpendicular torrents, that flooded the clayey
ground in a few minutes. The mass of storm shifted
XII. The Presents are delivered. 219
gradually to the north, and cleared away after two hours,
allaying for as many days the vehement plague of dust.
I will conclude this chapter with a few words touch-
ing our landlord, who holds much the same position, in
respect to King Gelele, as did Dr. Dee to Queen Kliza-
beth. He is, I have said, the son of the late ruler's pet
mediciner, and for many years he was a man of little note.
Having attached himself to the actual monarch when the
latter was a cadet, and by no means a favourite son, he
predicted to him a crown ; whence his present influence.
He soon exchanged his little huts, which many at
Agbome remember, for a large establishment, and he was
enriched by the usual process. When the King desires
to honour a subject, he gives him a larger, or a smaller,
gang of slaves. By selling these, and applying them to
palm oil, Fortunatus obtains wealth, without which, in
Africa, there is no true nobility.
I soon had a conversation with the lUiko-no, on the
subject of his speciality, the Afa 1 divination. It is a
profitable trade; every one in the country who can aflbrd
it "gets Afa," as the phrase is. liven English and other
mulattoes consult the oracle, without, however, owning to
the belief. The master and student must repair to
sacred, retired, and shady spots, scattered about the fields
and bush.' 2 After long ceremonies the diviner finds out
the symbol representing the features of the neophyte; he
then demands a heavy initiation fee ; ten heads are the
minimum required even from a poor man, whilst the rich
1 The Dahoman form of the Ifa of Egba-land, the god of wisdom
and prophecy. His origin is from the mythical city of Ife\ or Fe. as
the Ffon contracts the word. I have given rough outlines of the
worship in " Wanderings in West Africa, Abeokuta," chap. iv.
2 I have sometimes found them so engaged. It is an ancient
practice. So Cain and Abel sacrificed in the fields (Gen. iv. 8) ; Isaac
meditated, or prayed, in the country (Gen. xxiv. 63) ; EHason Mount
Carmel ; John the Baptist in the Desert of Judea; Jesus in the Garden
of Olives ; and Mohammed on Jabal Nur.
22o A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
would pay a hundred. The pupil then receives sixteen
palm-nut counters, and is taught their use. As he cannot
learn much of so dark an art, he must take professional
advice on all important matters ; but the subsequent fees
are light, being chiefly presents of fowls and provisions.
Finally, the neophyte is taught by the " Master of Afa "
what to abstain from beef or mutton, brandy or palm-
wine, like the Rechabites obeying their father Jonadab.
Afa begins before the Dahoman's birth, informing his
parent what ancestor has sent him into the world ; it is
his intimate companion and councillor throughout life
until he reaches the grave which it has predicted to him.
The Buko-no ignored the Yoruban triad, Shango,
Oro, and Obatala ; but he agreed with the Egbas about
Afa. Seeing that I had some knowledge of the craft, he
produced from a calico bag his " book," a board, like that
used by Moslem writing-masters, but two feet long by
eight inches, and provided with a dove-tail handle. One
side of this abacus contained what are called the sixteen
"mothers," or primary, the other showed as many children,
or secondary, figures. 1 Each was in an oblong of cut and
i The following note will explain the use of the palm-nuts, and
the names of the figures :
In throwing Afa, the reverend man, or the scholar, if sufficiently
advanced, takes sixteen of the fleshy nuts of a palm, resembling the cocoa-
tree ; these are cleared of sarcocarp, and are marked with certain Afa-du,
or Afa strokes.
When fate is consulted, the 16 nuts are thrown from the right hand to
the left ; if one is left behind, the priest marks two ; if two, one (the con-
trary may be the case, as in European and Asiatic geomancy) ; and thus
the 1 6 parents are formed.
The 1 6 are thus named and made :
I Called Bwe Megi : it is the Mother of all.
I Yeku Megi.
XII. The Presents are delivered.
blackened lines, whilst at the top were arbitrary marks
circles, squares, and others, to connect the sign with the
day. It began with the B we- Megi, the figure, assigned
to Vodun-be fetish day, or Sunday, whose mnemonic
VVudde, or Ode- Megi.
Un'in Megi : an inversion of No. 5.
Called Abla Megi.
Akla Megi ; or Abla inverted.
Guda Megi : an inversion of No. Q
222 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
symbol was six dots in a circle ; whilst Monday had a
sphere within a sphere. It was a palpable derivation
from the geomancy of the Greeks, much cultivated by
the Arabs under the name of Al-Raml (J^Jl), " The
sand," because the figures were cast upon the desert
floor. " Napoleon's Book of Fate " is a notable specimen
of European and modern vulgarization. The African Afa
is not, as in Asia, complicated with astrology ; and no
regard being paid to the relative position of figures, it is
comparatively unartful. Two details proved to me its
Moslem origin : the reading of the figures is from right to
left, and there are seven days, whereas the hebdomadal
week is beyond the negro's organization. 1 The Buko-no,
13. I I Lete Megi ; or Tula inverted.
I I I I
14. I I I I Ka Megi.
I I I I
I I I I
15. I I Che Megi.
I I I I
16. I I I I Fii Megi : considered the Father of all.
I I I I
These 16 parents may have many children. Nos. 13 and 2, for instance,
make I I
I I I
and so on, showing an infinite power of combination.
i When travellers talk of an African week, they unconsciously
allude to the great markets, which give their names to the days, and
which recur at different intervals in different places. Here there are
four. The first is the Ajyahi, in Agbome : it was Ajyahi day on
Saturday, February 6, 1864. The second is the Miyokhi, a large
market at Kana ; also the Uhun-jro, in Agbome : Sunday, February
XII. The Presents are delivered. 223
however, is not bigoted ; he is more knave than fool.
Before his retainers he must keep up the farce of faith ;
but in private he freely owns that the Afa, by which a
tree can be destroyed and the hour of man's death can be
predicted, is merely the means of livelihood the King's
Afa always excepted.
This rationalistic admission, however, did not prevent
the Buko-no at once making a sacrifice to his* god, for
having brought a "good stranger " to the King. The
dancing and singing in his "compound" lasted till dawn,
and in token of the favourable issue of his divination, In-
sent us next morning a dish of palm oil, stained yams,
stewed with pieces of boiled goat. This, considering his
habitual parsimony, was going far.
The Senior sets out on his nag, with his suite, to the
palace, at six or seven every morning. He squats or
stretches himself, dozing, smoking, chatting, eating, and
drinking, in one of the outside sheds, ready to be sum-
moned at a moment's notice within. Sometimes, but
rarely, he revisits his house for a.n hour about noon, when
he barricades the door, and is not " at home." The post-
meridional are spent like the morning hours, and he is
rarely dismissed before dark, often not till deep in the
night. These people seem hardly to take natural rest ;
the drum and the dance may be heard at his quarters
until dawn, and he declares that if this mode of life were
changed he should fall ill. Like the Dahoman dignitaries
7, 1864, would be called Uhun-jro day. The third is the Adogwin. at
Kana, and the Fousa, a little provision market, near the Dahome
Palace. The fourth is the Zogbodomen. near Agrime ; also the Ako-
de-je-go, near the Gau's house at Agbome. The word means Ako
(family), de (one), and jego (tuck up clothes to fight). All these old
names are mysterious, and little known to the people the missionaries
call them " parables," and they admit of many interpretations.
Some explain it by, " If the King leave his crown to one son. the rest
must obey him " ; others by, "If any people boast their valour, let
them come to Dahome and see."
224 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
in general, he must be sober, under pain of " King's
palaver." He cannot be said to have an hour's liberty,
or to be his own master for a day, whilst the King is in
the city. He leads the life of the East Indian Dhobi's
dog, " Na ghar ka, na ghat ka. 1 " Such is the routine of
a Dahoman noble. What an existence to love !
The Buko-no has lately married a young princess,
" Blythe and buxome at bedde and boarde,"
with whom Love is yet the Lord of all: we shall pre-
sently meet her in the palace. According to etiquette, he
must prefer her to all his other spouses, of whom he has
eighty. He is perpetually begging us for aphrodisiacs 2 ;
and on one occasion his wives, overhearing the request,
loudly accused him of taking away their good name. He
is very jealous of these ladies, and often declares that a
woman is the only thing which a man should not share
with his friend. We constantly hear them singing, chat-
tering, and quarrelling within; but they rarely appear;
and on one occasion he accused my Krumen of making
too free with our "fair", neighbours. They are mostly
black, rarely brown; like Shakspere's waves, they "curl
their monstrous heads" into the semblance of a prize
cauliflower, and their dress is a long white sheet, extend-
ing to the ankles, passed under the arms and over the
bosom. At times the faster lot play at bo-peep, when
le brutale is away; but as they are never alone, matters
cannot go too far.
1 " A washerman's dog, neither of the house nor of the ghaut"
(where the master washes).
2 Similarly, Captain Phillips relates to us that the uxorious old
"King of Whidaw," when about to marry (probably a 3oooth wife),
applied to him for a rundlet of brandy, as a Christmas present for the
bride's friends and his " cappashiers," and for a "strong-back
medicine " for himself. He sent the ship's surgeon, who gave him a
dose of cantharides, " which so heated the old man's reins that he
became as it were, a youngster once more," and on the next morning
related to the strangers various impertinences.
XII. The Presents are delivered. 225
Christmas here was distinguished by a violent storm
of thunder, lightning, and rain, the latter, as the old
traveller says, "more like fountains than drops, and hot,
as if warmed over a fire." Our modern copy of the
ancient Saturnalia opened with a cool, grey morning,
almost as clouded and sunless as could be expected in the
Black North. We duly drank to the land we live out of,
and the day ended with a heathenish dance of the ham-
mock-men, to whom rum had been issued. The Mission
servants joined, and the boy Richard Dosu distinguished
himself by the activity of a rat, the cunning of a fox, and
the impudence of a London sparrow. The next day was
a half Harmattan, which made the natives don warm
wrappers, lose appetite, and shun the bath. We un-
Ascians delighted in the cold, dry air, accumulating posi-
tive electricity, and throwing off the negativity of the
humid plain-heat. We bade adieu to anorexy, felt " hinc
sanitas" now, and were ready to hymn, with holy Mr.
" Sweet day! so cool, so calm, so bright."
Our first passage of arms with " Pantakaka," the old
Buko-no, occurred on Christmas eve. The King has
virtually abolished the custom of cribbing, cabining, and
confining visitors till the Message is delivered. 1 To my
request that the landlord would provide us with a guide,
as we purposed going out shooting in the morning, he
returned various frivolous excuses. I at once sent an in-
terpreter to the Prince Chyudaton, who, in reply, begged
pardon for the old man's folly, and requested me not to
act before his visit. He came to us in the morning, heard
my complaint, and went with it to the palace. In the
i Dr. M'Leod, who had made himself obnoxious, received a
message, when applying for permission to depart, that he was to be-
come a King's slave, meaning, not one who had actually to labour, but
a state prisoner. This, which he justly calls the " bleakest prospect
imaginable," was a mere temporary act of caprice.
VOL. I. 15
226 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
evening, the Buko-no met us with an ample apology, a
quarter of beef, a promise of a guide, and an offer of intro-
duction to the " princess."
The King usually supplies his guests with pure
water : in our case, however, the courtesy was neglected.
We had forgotten future travellers will not to take a
large dripstone filter, and we were beginning to suffer
from the white, clayey stuff brought to us by our lazy
hammock-men and servants. The element is here about
as scarce as in Thorold Square and Hollybush Place.
Sin dagbwe diyye! "Good water this!" is a cry ever
heard in the streets, and pots full are sold in every mar-
ket. We therefore engaged four Sin-no or " water-
mothers," as they are called, to supply us with a suffic-
iency for the day. Unfortunately, as soon as they could
collect a few cowries, they would stay at home for a
To reduce our establishment, I sent back five of the
Mission boys to Whydah, with orders to wait for and to
return with our letters. They would do nothing : their
sole efforts were confined to eating and talking, in which
two pursuits, but in these only, I must own that they dis-
played all the Anglo-Scandinavian energy and competi-
tion. As is usual in the land, every one was afflicted
with "a paralytic distemper which, seizing the arm, the
man cannot but choose shake his elbow " : they gam-
bled from morning till night. The favourite game is Aji-
do 1 ; probably the most ancient form of tabliers, or tables ;
but here it is far from the civilization of " evangiles de
bois." It is played on a board, with twelve cups,
the antagonists taking the six nearest to them ; four
tessera, dropped into each, are moved round from left to
i From Aji (the Guilandina Bonduc seed, which was originally
used in it), and do (a hole). The game is the Sa' Leone " Wari
the Ashanti Warra, the Fanti Wai, the Egba's Ajo, and the Bao
Usawahili and Zanzibar : it is played in a great variety of ways.
XII. The Presents are delivered. 227
right, until the last cowrie falls upon two or three of the
adversary's, and takes them. There is another, and a
somewhat more complicated game, called Sigi-to. 1
On St. John's Day (December 27), Mr. Cruikshank,
when returning from the palace, where he had been treat-
ing an Amazon for a deeply-seated inflammation of tin-
eye, saw the war-chiefs arriving at the capital from the
last out-stations, and parading before the palace. This
was a hint that the Customs would commence at once.
2 From Sigi (the dice with which it is played), and to (a town)
The dice made in Agbome are very rude ; hut manifestly an imita-
tion of the European.
OF THE GRAND CUSTOMS AND THE ANNUAL CUSTOMS
THE word "Custom" is used to signify the cost or
charges paid to the King at a certain season in the year.
It is borrowed by us from our predecessors on the West
African Coast the old French who wrote codtume, 1 and
the Portuguese costume, meaning habit or usage.
The Grand Customs 2 are performed only after the
death of a king. They excel the annual rites in splendour
and in bloodshed, for which reason the successor defers
them till he has become sufficiently wealthy. The "His-
tory," which was not written in the days of details, gives
cursorily some terrible accounts of the slaughter and of
the barbarities which accompanied it. "In the months
of January, February, and March (1791), the ceremonies
of the Grand Customs and of the King's coronation took
place; the ceremonies of which lasted the whole three
months, and were marked almost every day with human
blood." Captain Fayrer, and particularly Mr. Hogg,
Governor of Appolonia, were present; and both affirm
that not fewer than five hundred men, women, and children
fell "victims to revenge and ostentation, under the show
of piety. Many more were expected to fall; but a sud-
1 So Barbot (i. 4) speaks of La coutume (the tax) de Parmier.
2 Dr. M'Leod (p. 59) distinguishes them as double customs,
opposed to single custom but he is singular in this.
XIII. Grand Customs and the Annual Customs. 229
den demand for slaves having thrown the lure of avarice
before the King 1 he, like his ancestors, showed he was
not insensible to its temptation."
The curious reader will find at the end of the present
work a paper by the Rev. Mr. Bernasko, who was pre-
sent at the last Grand Customs performed in November,
1860, by the present sovereign, to honour the manes of
his sire. Although the horrors of this rite were greatly
exaggerated, with ridiculous adjuncts,- in Europe, it is
clear that very little change has taken place, especially in
the number of victims, during two-thirds of a century.
The yearly Customs were first heard of by Europe
in the days of Agaja the Conqueror (1708-1727), although
they had doubtless been practised many years before him.
They form, in fact, contiimatic^s_c^_Jiu^Giarid.jCubi.Qjns,
and they periodically supply the departed monarch with
fresh attendants in the shadowy world. They are called
by the people Khwe-ta-nun, "The yearly head thing,"
and Anun 'gbome 8 " Going to Agboine in the Dries." The
number of victims has been much swollen by report. Mr.
James, at the beginning of the present century, found the
maximum of three several years to be sixty-five. Com-
mander Forbes, who writes feelingly, owns that, in the
later years of King Gezo's reign, not more than thirty-
six heads fell. I have laid down a total of at most eighty
during the time of my mission, and of these none, except
the criminal part, was Dahoman.'
1 Agongoro (Wheenoohew), the grandfather of the reigning
2 For instance, the Europe-wide report that the king floated a
canoe and paddled himself in a tank full of human blood. It arose
from the custom of collecting the gore of the victims in one or two
pits about two feet deep and four in diameter. See Appendix III.
3 Literally, anun (in the dries after the rains), 'gbomen, for Ag-
bomen (we will go to Agbome). The other name is khwe (year), ta
(head), nun (thing).
4 So Mr. Duncan states. " The people thus sacrificed are gener-
230 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahoine.
The season of the Customs, which combine carnival,
general muster, and lits de justice, seems to comprise the
whole year, except the epoch of the annual slave-hunts,
here dignified by the name of "wars." For instance, at
present the King purposes to set out on his marauding
expedition in February, and to return in March or April.
He then lodges at the Jegbe Palace, "spreads a table"
(in other words gives a banquet), and purchases the cap-
tives from his soldiery. The next move is to the country-
quarters at Kana, where, about May, he will perform the
Oy^Customs, 1 and then take his rest a happy murderer.
In November, when the rains are ended, he will summon
his chiefs, sleep at the Adan-we Palace, and on the next
day make a ceremonious entrance into his capital, like
that which I have just described. This year various de-
lays have put off the rites till December.
The annual Customs are of two kinds. The first
which happened, for instance, in 1862-63 is called Atto-
ton-khwe, or the Atto 2 year, from the Atto, or platform,
in the Ajyahi market, whence the victims are precipitated.
Of its peculiarities we have sketches by Mr. Norris (1772)
and M. Wallon (1856-58), finished descriptions and poor
drawings by Commander Forbes (1849-50), and, later
still, an official account by Commodore Wilmot. 3 The
second is the So-sin-khwe (1863-64), the " Horse-tie year,"
ally prisoners of war, whom the king often sets aside for this purpose.
.... Should there be any lack of these, the number is made up
from the most convenient of his own subjects." Such, however, is
not, I believe, the custom now.
1 See chap. vii. j/> I ^
2 Pronounced Attaw. In the History there is mention of four
platforms, raised stages of rough timber, covered with cloths and
provided with seats for the King and his visitors. Gezo reduced the
number to one, and his son has again excelled him by doubling it.
3 See Appendix III.
XIII. Grand Customs and the Annual Customs. 231
and the reason of the name will presently appear. As
yet, no traveller has, I believe, described the ceremonies
of the So-sin, which, however, differ but little from. those
of the Atto.
2 3 2
THE KING'S " SO-SIN CUSTOM."
First Day of the King's Annual Customs.
EARLY on the Day of the Innocents (December 28th),
a discharge of musketry near the palace and a royal mes-
sage informed us that the Customs had begun, and that
our presence at the palace was expected. We delayed as
long as was decent, and, shortly after noon, mounting our
hammocks, we proceeded by the usual way to the Komasi
In the Uhun-jro market-place, outside the Ako-
chyo Gate, and not attached, as it used to be, to the
palace-wall, stood a victim shed, completed and furnished.
From afar the shape was not unlike that of an English
village church a barn and a tower. The total length
was about 100 feet, the breadth 40, and the greatest
height 60. It was made of roughly-squared posts, nine
feet high, and planted deep in the earth. The ground-
floor of the southern front had sixteen poles, upon which
rested the joists and planks supporting the pent-shaped
roof of the barn. There was a western double-storied
turret, each front having four posts. l The whole roof
i We find in the History (print, p. 130) a single thatched and
open shed, with twelve men sitting on the ground : their hands are
lashed as now. The late king added a turret of one story, and the
present ruler a second stage. In the old illustration there are twelve
horses tied to the hinder posts, we saw but three.
XIV. The Kings "So-sin Custom." Section A. 233
was covered with a tattered cloth, blood-red, bisected by
a single broad stripe of blue check.
In the turret and in the barn were twenty victims.
All were seated on cage stools, and were bound to the posts
which passed between their legs ; the ankles, the shins
under the knees, and the wrists being lashed outside with
connected ties. Necklaces of rope, passing behind the
back, and fastened to the upper arms, were also made
tight to the posts. The confinement was not cruel : each
victim had an attendant squatting behind him, to keep off
the flies ; all were fed four times a day, and were loosed
at night for sleep. As will be shown, it is the King's
object to keep them in the best of humours.
The dress of these victims was that of state criminals.
They wore long white nightcaps, with spirals of blue
ribbon sewn on, and calico shirts of quasi ~tLuropea.il cut,
decorated round the neck and down the sleeves with red
bindings, and with a crimson patch on the left breast.
The remaining garment was a loin-cloth, almost hidden by
the " camise." It was an ominous sight ; but at times
the King exposes without slaying his victims. A Euro-
pean under the circumstances would have attempted
escape, and in all probability would have succeeded :
these men will allow themselves to be led to slaughter
like lambs. It is, I imagine, the uncertainty of their fate
that produces this extraordinary nonchalance. They marked
time to music, and they chattered together, especially re-
marking us. Possibly they were speculating upon the
chances of a pardon. 1
We dismounted, as usual, at the palace corner, and
the Harmattan sun made us take refuge under one of
the sheds. A procession was walking round the square
i Exactly the same thing is observed in the History. " The un-
happy victims, though conscious of their impending fate, were not
indifferent to the music, which they seemed to enjoy by endeavouring
to beat time to it."
234 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
a mob of followers escorting the Sogan, or Horse Cap-
tain, 1 who was riding bareheaded under a white umbrella.
This high official, who is under the Meu, opens the Cus-
toms by taking all the chargers from their owners, and by
tying them up, whence the word "So-sin." The animals
must be redeemed, after a few days, with a bag of cowries.
A gun, fired inside the palace, warned us that royalty
was about to appear. A corps of " Amazons" streamed
from, and formed a rough line in front of, the Komasi
Gate. The King, under a gorgeous umbrella, and the
usual parasol upheld by his wives, stalked down a lane
through the thick crowd towards his own proper So-sin.
This was a shanty fronting, and about 150 paces from,
the palace. It resembled the Uhun-jro, or market-shed
to the N. N. East, but it lacked the turret. Thirty barked
and badly-dressed tree-trunks, and a strong scantling of
roughly-squared timber, supported the first-floor, which
was without walls. The thatch of the pent-roof was
hidden, as in the other So-sin, by a glaring blood-red
calico, with long black stripes along the ridge and eaves.
Splints of bamboo frond were planted in the ground, and
a thin cord of "tie-tie," or tree-bark, railed off between
them and the public a space, some four feet broad, into
which only the King is allowed to penetrate. I counted
nine victims on the ground-floor and ten above, 2 lashed to
nearly every second post of the front opposite the palace.
They resembled in all points those of the market-shed,
and looked wholly unconcerned, whilst their appearance
did not attract the least attention. Yet I felt haunted
by the presence of these morituri, with whose hard fate
the dance, the song, the dole, and the noisy merriment of
the thoughtless mob afforded the saddest contrast.
Between the Komasi Gate and this "palace shed"
1 So (horse), and gan (captain).
2 There were most probably twenty victims in the palace shed, as
in the market shed.
XIV. The King's "So -sin Custom." SfitionA. 2^5
was planted a tali T-shaped pole, rough, black, and hung
with white rugs at each end of the crosspiece. This is a
Bo-fetish, guarding the present Custom. Near it, under
a pair of exceedingly shabby umbrellas, sat, on the dignity
of caboceers' chairs and stools, the representatives of the
Agasun-no, the highest fetisheer in the city. The head
man, or deputy, wore a huge Happed felt hat, and a body-
cloth striped blue and white. When the Agasun-no appears
in person before the monarch the latter must remove his
sandals, prostrate himself before the church, kiss the
ground, and throw a little dust upon his forehead, whilst
all the courtiers take a sand bath, and white men stand
up and bow. Methought they did not regard us with an
over-friendly eye, but such is, perhaps, the custom of
reverend men generally with respect to those not of their
The King having visited his fetish, returned towards
the palace, surrounded by live of his principal officers.
At a signal, w r e advanced, bared heads, shook hands and
snapped fingers with him ; he cordially and repeatedly
returned the compliment, inquiring politely about our
health. He then returned to his station near the palace
gate, 1 where the Amazons, after sallying out and parading
about the square amongst the prostrate men, returned to
him. The royal shed was ostentatiously small, open, and
covered with poor coloured cloths ; a line of twelve um-
brellas, the two most gorgeous being outside, formed a
verandah, and inside the parasol showed the place of the
King. He occupied a kind of couch, strewed with hand-
some home-made cottons ; in front of him, upon a mat,
crouched a Dakro, or messengeress, and behind him stood
and sat a semicircle of wives.
i So Jehoshaphat and Ahab, kings of Israel, placed their thrones
in a void place at the entering in of the gate of Samaria (i Chron
xviii. 9). At Agborae, however, the .cJiHJ***^ * re ^-
sitting, and the market is only for bush foljt*
236 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
On the King's proper right was a larger shed, some-
what like a two-poled tent. The mat and thatch were
covered with cloth, parti-coloured at the sides and at the
roof, whilst elsewhere it was of white calico, adorned with
grotesque shapes. Unlike its neighbour, it was closed all
round except at the entrance, which had for verandah
two white umbrellas. Inside, at the bottom, was a kind
of diwan, and on the ground before it sat a small black
child in red, and two women with white caps and vests,
and blue pagnes, with four or five others hardly dis-
tinguishable. The double posts supporting the entrance
were clothed with red and pink silk ; about their middle
hung a dozen abacot caps, and under the verandah
squatted a woman with a gun placed on a stool before her.
This tent contained the relics of the old King. His
ghost is supposed to be present, and all bow and prostrate
to it before noticing the present ruler.
To Gelele's extreme right was planted a white flag,
with a blue cross ; around the staff a group of armed
women gathered. Immediately near the King, but leaving
a square space in front, were the Amazons, at squat, with
their gun-barrels bristling upwards ; there were amongst
them many young girls in training for military life. A
half-naked boy lay on the ground within a few feet of the
royal umbrellas, and children are allowed behind the
bamboos. On other occasions, juveniles, wholly nude,
wandered about, heedless of reproof, and I have seen two
of them fighting before the throne. Even the lowest
orders crossed the presence with an air for which, in Asia,
their feet and calves would have disappeared under the
bastinado. The barbarous nature of the African every-
where pierces through, whatever be the disguise.
On the left of the King were the Amazon drums and
rattles. In the open space between the throne and the
bamboos lay the three calabashes supporting the three
chieftains' brass mounted skulls, On two large mats of
XIV. The King's " So-sin Custom:' Section A. 237
palm-fibre were ranged shallow baskets, which acted as
saucers to calabashes some 2-50 feet in diameter. Three
of them were adorned with silver crescents and stars,
whilst all were covered above and below with various
coloured calicoes red, blue, yellow, pink, and striped.
Periodically, knots of eight or nine women came from t he-
palace with larger or smaller gourds of provisions, which
they disposed upon a third mat in front of the King.
In a much shorter time than it has taken the reader
to peruse this mise-en-scene, the caboceers and their fol-
lowers, who were scattered over the square, gathered into
a dense semicircle near the bamboos. The dignitaries
sat or lay on the ground, unarmed, under their white,
blue, and fancy umbrellas. The little people were on
foot behind them, and the women and girls stood aloof,
peeping as they best could. The total number present,
including about 300 children, might have amounted to
2500, and I never saw at Agbome a larger gathering.
The day opened with various preliminaries. Ten
unarmed men were dancing in line before the Komasi
Gate when the King came forth. The sally of the
Amazons was succeeded by long and loud firing. After
all were seated, the old Yevogan led us up to the bamlxxDs,
where, fronting the King, we exchanged salutations,
this was an invariable part of the ceremony. The senior
then conducted us to a place on the left or Men's side of
the male semicircle, close to a very strong band, whose
two chiefs wore Phrygian bonnets of red and blue velvet.
A hole was dug in the ground and a large white umbrella
was planted over us for shade, the "earth being beat
tightly round it, similar to a large mushroom." Presently
the Meu brought up a flask of gin and a calabash of Ata,
or bean cake, wrapped in plantain leaf, with a royal mes-
sage that the " white-man's captain " had sent, according
to custom, this food to the King, and that he shared it
238 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
with us (formula) ; whereupon we bowed our acknowledg-
Gelele then rose, and came from out his shed. His
dress, besides the usual bracca and a dark silk kerchief
round his waist, was a blue-flowered damask shirt, a
table-cover, in fact, and this was knotted on his left side.
He formed an effective picture : a fine tall figure, with
shoulders towering above his wives, the head bent slightly
forwards, and his hands clasped behind his back. There
were hushed murmurs of applause, and the faces of his
subjects expressed unaffected admiration.
Sundry of the King's wives accompanied their lord,
and stood or sat upon the ground behind him. None
was handsome, but some had the piquancy of youth.
Their strong point, as in the Italian and Spanish women,
was the pettinatura. The prettiest of the hair-dresses was
a short crop, like lambswool, sometimes stained blue, as
with indigo. The plainest was the melon-stripe, where
the short hair was plaited in lines, exposing the scalp
between. The most grotesque was the semblance of
pepper grains, or of cloves stuck in a ham, formed by
twisting up single little wool spirals. Another peculiar
coiffure was the tuft, varying from one to four, some small
as thimbles, others large as the Turk's-caps on lamp
chimneys l ; they rose sharp and solid from the clean brown
scalp, and seemed made of black velvet, burned reddish by
the sun. The princesses wore the hair like a fez, bristling
stiff to the height of six inches, and looking compact as
ebony wood. A few had bear's ears, two tufts upon the
"region of cautiousness" ; others wore the scarlet feather
of an oriole stuck in their sable locks.
Immediately behind the King stood three wives one
with the head shaven and naked, the second with long
hair, and the third with a princely "fez." They sheltered
his uncapped pole with three gorgeous tent-umbrellas of
cotton velvets, whilst a fourth protected him with a gay
i See Frontispiece, " The Amazon."
XIV. The King's " So-sin Custom." Section A. 2}c>
parasol. The first was a parody upon the Sacri- Ctrur -
which the Dahomams admire, probably because it sug-
gests tearing out the foeman's heart. Kach lappet of the
valance was alternately green and crimson ; in the upper
part was a larger cross, red or yellow, with a black or
white border, and below it, of the same hue, an object
manifestly intended for a human heart but broken into
crockets. In the centre of this was a better shaped heart
with a small white medial cross; and both were disposed
apex downwards. The second showed an upper line of
white crosslets on black velvet ; below it was a blue shark,
edged white and yellow, with a red and purple eye, resting
upon crimson or claret-coloured velvet, which was lined
with a binding like that of the animal. The third, and
the most splendid, was capped with a very heraldic
wooden lion, painted the brightest saffron. The lappets
showed the king of the beasts grasping in the dexter paw
a white scimitar, and below it a biped, very negro, with
dazzling white knickerbockers and no le^s to speak of,
vainly upholding a blue sword blade. Both figures were
on red ground, fiarscme with little white crosses. This
umbrella was equally grandly lined, whereas the two
former were white inside. The diameters varied from six
to ten feet, rendering them unmanageable in windy
weather. The poles were seven feet long, and instead of
wires they had square rods connected by strings, probably
brought by the Portuguese, and easily to be distinguished
from the rude native stick frames. They were kept
open by a peg passed through the upper part of the
Before the speech began, four bundles of palm mat-
ting, which lay inside the bamboo barrier, were opened by
the women. Each contained a lamp-black drum, the
largest three feet high, all with skin-heads lashed tight to
about a dozen large pegs projecting a few inches below
the top. They were decorated with small squares of red
240 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
stuff in front, with white, blue, and black cloths behind
them, like four aprons of different sizes. These are called
Ganchya 'hun. 1 The word applies especially to its
peculiar sound or beat, and, by inference, to the song of
which it forms the accompaniment.
The King having hitched up his body-cloth, began
an allocution in a low tone, as if "nervous." Men and
women huissiers and heralds, standing on the right, and the
youths calling themselves the " Donpwe," proclaimed
attention by loud and long cries of "Ago !" Audience !
or " Oyez 2 ! " On the left a sharp double tap was struck
on the cymbal, and all obeyed. The King spoke with
the head a little on one side, assuming a somewhat
goguenard air. His words were many and oft repeated ;
the genius, or rather the poverty of the language necessi-
tates verbosity. In so artless a tongue it is only by
" battology " and frequent repetition that the finer shades
of meaning can be elicited. The sense is short to relate.
" His ancestors had built rough and simple So-sin sheds.
His father, Gezo, had improved them when * making
Customs ' for the ghost of Agongoro (Wheenoohew). It
is good to beget children who can perform such pious
rites. Therefore, he (Gelele) would do for his sire what
he hoped his son would do for him." And some score of
men sat listening about to die !
Presently, the women in attendance placed the drums
before the King, and handed to him four hooked sticks.
Upon these he spat, beat two of the instruments, and
spoke during the intervals of drumming. The " Ganchya,"
I was told, is a new ceremony.
After listening to loud applause, and being saluted
with discharges of musketry, the king retired behind the
1 Hun, or uhun, is the generic name of a drum.
2 The general word for " silence ! " is " nagbo ! " Both at Abeo-
kuta and at Agbome it is used when entering the house, so as not to
take the inmates by surprise.
XIV. The Kings "So-sin Custom" Section A. 241
curtain held by his wives, and whilst he drank, the sub
jects went through the usual ceremony.
After resting awhile, Gelele stalked to the fore. In
his left hand was a Kpo-ge, 1 or singer's staff a silver-
headed and feruled stick, two feet long. To the upper
part was fastened a square of silk kerchief, striped red and
purple, and folded in a triangle. The apex was passed
through silver-lined eyelet-holes, like those that in former
times, amongst us, held the " beau's" cam> tassel. The
king also wore the bard's insignia double necklaces of
beads, disposed like cross belts over the breast, and with
the usual pigtails behind. After singing for awhile, to
the great delight of the listeners, he danced, first to the
men's, then to the women's, band. He is, unlike his
father, a notable performer, and though the style is purely
Dahoman and barbarous, the movements are compara-
tively kingly and dignified. He was assisted in this per-
formance by a " leopard wife-" on each side, dressed in
white waistcoats, and striped loin-cloths extending to the
feet. In their hair was a kind of diadem of silver pieces,
bright as new sixpences. At this sight the people vocifer-
ated their joy. A herald, in a huge felt hat and bright
bracelets, and a jester, conspicuously ugly, with a tattered
"wide-awake," a large goat-skin bag under the left arm,
with chalked face and legs, rose to their feet, and point-
ing at the King a peculiarly disrespectful action to
European eyes declared, in cracked, shouting voices,
that he was "Sweet, sweet, sweet as a white man!"
Then followed a chorus of soldieresses, and from the
crowd loud " Ububu, 1 ' 1 " made by patting the open mouth
1 Kpo (a staff), and ge (thin).
2 In the Ffon, kpo (a leopard), and 'si (a wife) here usually
translated tiger-wives. They are the youngest and the fairest of the
3 This is the " kil " of Persia and the "zagharit" of Egypt
Here it expresses wonder and pleasure, and is mostly confined to the
VOL. I. 16
242 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
with the hand. On the women's side the " King's birds 1 "
chirruped and twittered to justify their names.
Before sitting down, Gelele advanced to the front
rank of male spectators, and removing, with his right fore-
finger, the perspiration from his brow, scattered it with a
jerk over the delighted group. He was then cooled by
his wives, who rubbed him down with fine yellow silk ker-
chiefs, and vigorously plied their round hide fans,' 2 coloured
Then, rising again, like a refreshed giant, the
monarch danced to six modes. When the time was to be
changed, a chorus of women gave the cue to their band
by repeating certain meaningless technical terms, ending
with frequent repetitions of " Ko ! ko ! ko ! " till the
musician had learned the right measure. Presently, two,
and at a short interval, three wives danced on each side
of the King, keeping an eye upon him, and so preserving
excellent time. The fourth dance was more animated, and
as the monarch showed shortness of breath, an old
Amazon addressed him, " Adan-we ! 8 " He resumed his
labours to the words, " Agida 'hun-to Ko-'hun 4 ! " and
he advanced, stooping towards the ground, and rolling
one elbow over another, to show that he was binding
Followed a little change of scene. The King, prop-
ping his elbow upon the bard's staff, and bending low
whilst his wives surrounded him, sitting on their hams,
sang, and was responded to by what appeared a laughing
1 A select troop of musicians known as akhosu (king), and khwe
(bird). They are of both sexes ; but the sound generally proceeds
from the women. The male " king-birds " are attired, like Moslems,
in white petticoats.
2 In Ffon, known as "Afafa"; in Abeokuta, "Agbebbe."
j Meaning, " O brave white ! "
4 Explained thus : Agida (the bent drum-stick), 'hun-to (drum
beater), ko-hun (beat the drum), kaya (turning or wheeling about)
viz., Drummer, use thy drum-stick, and we will turn about.
1 6 2
XIV. The King's " So-sin Custom."- Sfition A. 243
chorus, but which was a dirge- a single cymbal making
melancholy music. Then rising with uplifted staff, and
turning towards the larger shed-tent, he adored, in silence,
his father's ghost. This new and startling practice was
Decorations were distributed a pair of singers'
staves to a male and a female, who received them with
cries of " Tamule ' ! " The King then brought out by
twos half a dozen double-pigtailed necklaces of yellow
beads, interrupted by red. Three were handed to the
Men, the Yevogan, and a favourite singer, who put them
on in due form. The rest were given to the highest she-
dignitaries, whose lips were white with kissing the ground,
(iimdeme, the woman Min-gan, is white-haired and
tottering. Kgbelu, the " Men's Mother," lias grey hair,
sharpish features, and broken front teeth. Na-dude
Agoa,"the female Yevogan, is a huge middle-aged woman,
brown, and rolling in fat. Her hair is still black, and her
features not quite uncomely ; her voice is strong and
clear ; moreover, she speaks well. This is the officer
who bare two sets of twins, first girls, then boys, to the
King. The two former, according to the ancient usage
of the empire, were betrothed to the Min-gan and the Men,
when the wicked cousin won their prcmiccs. Formerly,
the royal ladies had only temporary husbands, visiting all
men who pleased them. As this caused great scandals,
the King has forbidden polyandry; but the husbands, as
a rule, must confine their marital attentions to the blood-
royal. On marriage, the daughters receive each a dowry
of eighty slaves, male and female, but the aged sons-in-
law are expected to "spend money like water."
Presently, Gelele, who was sitting in front of the
feminine Court, handed sundry rolls of blue and pink
1 A corruption of the Fanti " Kndamenen." O brave man !
2 Explained by, " I eat one thing not. right": if . 1 cannot eat
or embezzle anything.
244 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahoinc.
cottons to the Meu. The high dignitaries all rose ex-
citedly, unfolded, and, standing at a distance, stretched
each cloth to show that it was an entire piece. A white
umbrella, opened and waved about by the Min-gan, a
caboceer's stool, bran new, and sundry heads of cowries
were placed before the presence. This was the ceremony
of raising a captain to the rank of Ajyaho, 1 and, to the
wonderment of all, Chabi, a young man and Left-hand
Commander of the Blue Guards, therefore under the
orders of Adan-men-nun-kon, was raised to the sixth rank
in the realm.
The "Grandfather of Dahome" has ever been, I have
said, the heir of his subjects, whose widows, slaves, and
all moveable property must be carried to the palace. It
is probable that the goods do not leave the lion's den
without yielding considerable " heriot" as the lion's share.
As a rule, the eldest son, or, if he be judged unfit, the
successor to the vacant office, inherits the deceased's
wives and makes them his own, excepting, of course, the
woman that bare him. 2 This was practically proved to
us. A file of fourteen women, two with babies on their
backs, twice issued from the palace, carrying big native
boxes, grass-cloth bags, old muskets, silver armlets and
bracelets, home-made stools, hats, pipes, sticks, umbrellas
in ragged cloths, and similar valuables. Twice the new
wives and slaves crouched humbly before their proprietor.
Soon afterwards, forty-three male " chattels " of the
deceased crawled on all-fours from the left past the King,
and did homage to their " live lord."
When the King's silver-mounted pipe had been lit
behind the tente d'abri extemporized by the wives' clothes,
and had been handed to him, we produced our cigars,
and applied ourselves to the old liqueur case. We per-
1 See chap. viii.
2 Especially in the royal family. So in 2 Samuel, xii. 8, we read
that Nathan gave David's master's wives unto David's bosom. In
that barbarous state of society women are inherited like cattle.
XIV. The Kings "So-sin Custom" Section A. 245
severed in distributing the contents amongst our Krumen
and followers they are expected to drink kneeling-
although the Buko-no showed manifest disapproval of
such waste. Presently, the cracked- voiced Min-gan rose
and explained what things had been done by the King to
the novus homo, and when supported by the Tokpo (a
captain, but not of royal blood), he committed himself to
a recapitulation. All gave the ruler that full feed of
flattery which his soul loves. He may be said to breathe
an atmosphere of adulation, which intoxicates him. The
wildest assertions, the falsest protestations, the most ridi-
culous compliments, the ultra-Hibernian "blarney" all
are swallowed in the bottomless pit of poor human vanity,
and midnight will often see him engaged in what ou^'ht
to be a very nauseous occupation.
Kchili, the fourth caboceer of \Vhydah, then rose,
and performed the part of a skull at the Nilotic, feast.
The Ajyaho, he said, rarely lived for more than a year,
and if Chabi, like those before him, should die of poison,
the crime must be punished. Then the fat Adanejan
declared, in his bull's voice, that he and many < abo< eers
had proposed for the Ajyahoship another person, but that
the King had chosen one trusty and brave ; moreover,
that all poison would now be detected.
Whereupon the lucky man stood up, puffed like a
pouter-pigeon by the new clothes which the ministers had
bound about his upper half; his hair was brickdust red
after much shovelling, and his right hand nervously,
methought, fingered his musket nuix/.lo. After his
44 portrait " had been duly taken, he spoke till the sun
burned crimson above the western horizon, even through
the fringes and valances of our portable tent. He had
been raised from a simple captain to the position of .1 high
caboceer ; he would soon achieve an act of loyalty and
bravery ; with much boasting on the same pattern. After
sundry prostrations, and other speeches to this purport,
246 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahonie.
he publicly assumed three new " strong names" : i. Azon-
kpo ma-ji-won ; 2. Achoroko ; 3. Sevi kanyena-ma-se-
A chorus of plaudits received these distinguished
sentiments. The Ajyaho danced under his unfolded
umbrella, and, backed by his fresh gang of slaves, raised
muskets and war-clubs to salute the King. Presently,
Ago ! from the women, and the cymbal-taps from the men,
proclaimed silence for royalty.
The King, still sitting amidst his female group, then
addressed the Ajyaho, who stood up reverently in the front
centre of the caboceer's semicircle. He added emphasis
to earnest words by often shaking the forefinger as is
done in North America to men, and in England to naughty
boys at his last promotion, whom he exhorted to be
brave and loyal, and whom he warned not to obey any
dignity except the Min-gan and the Meu. Hereat the
people clapped their hands. Silence being again enjoined,
the Ajyaho was once more strictly cautioned not to be
deceived by his brother chiefs.
Ensued the promotion of another captain, whose
name was changed from Koikon to Hon-je-no.' 2 Before
all the ceremonies could be concluded, the wood became
dark, and the store of provisions strewed before the King
1 The caboceers, like the kings of Dahome, assume a first name
or names after any remarkable action or event. Those in the text
are taken from the Bo-fetish jargon, and are not intelligible to the
vulgar. The first was thus interpreted : Azon-kpo (a training stick),
ma (not), ji (afraid, synonymous with si, or khe-si), won (portent,
evil omen, especially a child) ; viz., (I am) a club not afraid (to slay),
portents (that menace the king). The second was explained, " I
will punish all who will not serve my king." The third means, Sevi
(an evil-doer), kanyena (a bad thing), ma-se (never listens), gbo
(don't ! or leave off!), 'gbwe ! (emphatic, e.g., gbo-'gbwe, I tell you to
leave off!); viz., "People plead for offenders, but I will not suffer
this if any one harm the king."
2 It is a Bo-fetish name, interpreted to mean "The man in charge
of the King's door." Hon (door), je (waits), no (within).
XIV. The King's " So-sin Custom." -Section A. 247
was distributed. The Dakros placed the calabashes
outside the bamboos, whence they were removed by the
several recipients. Suddenly, as is his wont, ( icicle rose,
and came towards us. After snapping finders, I thanked
him for the spectacle. He showed me the rum for our
hammock-men, and our share- of provisions; after which
we were all three told that we must dance, sing, and drum
the latter accomplishment, unfortunately, has not received
from me the attention which it deserves. Dr. Cruikshank
and I willingly consented to dance with the King, knowing
it to be the custom, and that he greatly enjoyed it. \V<
pleaded, however, successfully for Mr. Bernasko, who,
being a Reverend, could only sing. Gelele showed much
delicacy in the matter, often threatening but not calling
upon us to perform, lest our nerves might be startled by
so great an event, and saying that he would choose evening
time, as the sun does not suit white men.
Whereupon we withdrew. The provisions, which
accompanied us, caused a tumult till near dawn. I\un ft
spectacles are apparently the cardinal wants of these people ;
they sing, drum, and dance all the day, and they light foi
their wretched provision half the night. When not
engaged in these pleasures they are plundering the where-
withal to procure them. Hence the melancholy state of
Nothing could be poorer than the display above
described ; any petty hill rajah in India could command
more wealth and splendour. All was a barren barbarism,
whose only " sensation " was produced by a score of men
looking on and hearing that they are about to die.
I again sent a message to Chyudaton, officially ob-
jecting to be present at any human sacrifice, proposing
that lower animals be substituted for men, and declaring
that if any death took place before me, I should at once
return to Whydah. He replied that there would IHJ no
necessity for the latter measure, and, with respect to the
248 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
victims, that many would be released, and that those
executed would be only the worst of criminals and malig-
nant war-captives. With which crumb of comfort I was
compelled to rest satisfied. Hitherto the gang of victims
has been paraded round, under tortures, before the visitors,
and in later years they have been cruelly gagged ; more-
over, the executions took place within hearing, and often
within sight of the strangers. 1 It is, therefore, already
something to lower the demoralizing prominence of the
The A vo uzu 'gbe* or Second Day of the King's So-sin Customs.
December 2gth was again a dies non. The vile water
had affected us all, and the Reverend was in bed of a Har-
mattan. The King, therefore, kindly deferred for a day
the grand spectacle with which he intended to surprise us.
At 2.25 P.M., December 30, we mounted hammocks and
proceeded to the market-shed.
The picture was as follows. To the west of the Uhun-
jro, the broad open space opposite the gap which acts as
gate, was another cloth-covered tent, with wings of upright
matting. A clean entrance led up to the former, near
which a tall flagstaff held a yellow flag with a broad blood-
red cross. The wings were railed off for the royal wives
by the usual Dahoman fence of palm-sticks and bark rope.
The erection was flanked by two large trees, about a hun-
dred yards apart, and they were connected by a semicircle
of bamboos, bulging to the front and forming the boundary
between the sexes. To the north was the ominous victim-
shed, with its steeple-like turret, and with its score of
wretches gazing at the fete.
1 See Mr. Duncan (vol. i. pp. 250-252). The people say of him
that he was a good war-man, as he used to walk up to, and to in-
spect the corpses.
2 Avo (cloth), uzu (change), 'gbe (to-day).
XIV. The King's "So-sin Custom." Section II. 249
Our chairs were placed on the men's side, or a little
to the left of the tent entrance line, and on the opposite
side of the square near the gate. Presently a motley
group passed us three several times, moving as usual to the
right. First appeared the old To-no-nun and his six
eunuchs, who carried with difficulty a huge package, like a
bagged tent. Followed a hunchback, whip in hand,
clearing the way. Visese-gan, the sub-chief eunuchess,
preceded about a score of women, carrying upon their
heads coarse palm-mats ; they were followed by an escort,
bearing calabashes and baskets, each filled with al>out
twenty bundles of tightly-rolled cloth, stuck upright and
compacted by an outside wrapper. The total represented
120 bearers, but of these ten had no burden. Valuing thr
minimum at 2 dols., and the maximum at 5 dols., and
assuming 3 dols. to be the medium, the value shown to us
was about ; 13 20 (no x 20 2200 cloths hn<x> dols.).
The rear was composed of a corps of " leopard wives,"
with silver-studded hair, and by a large band of women
who, as they passed by, openly "chaffed" us. After the
third circuit the mats were spread and the baskets wen-
deposited at the entrance of the tent, when thirty women,
coming from the wings and opening the cloth bundles,
began to build the " Avo lilli, 1 " cloth heap or diwan.
Meanwhile, preceded by singing and dancing musket-
eers, the high dignitaries passed before us, riding, under
their umbrellas, the horses which they have now ran-
somed, and followed by noisy bands. The two schools
showed themselves at a glance. Our friends, the Anlin-
wa-nun,' 2 who is the *' King's place," when royalty dors
not go to war, the Hina/on or treasurer, the Hi-wan-ton or
Junior Men, the Abo and the Matro, uncle and brother,
by the father's side, to the present King, either bowed
1 Avo (a cloth), and li or lilli (smoothen !)
2 This is a Bo name, and imperfectly understood. The word*
are Anlin (a hole in the ground), wa (make), nun (a thing)
250 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
smiling or came up to us and danced. The Matro, who
holds the high dignity of lieutenant Gau, is a fine, tall
young man ; he was habited in a Moslem skull-cap, a
large white body-cloth and canary-coloured shorts. When
his band and musketeers had formed an oval opening
opposite us, he danced with a face expressing great glee,
instead of the usual serious and inanimate look. Two of
his retainers, a jester and a soldier, conspicuous by his
gloria of monkey-skin, rising from a band of cowries,
shouted in mediaeval phrase, " A Matro ! A Matro ! " As
the excited chief took a musket and manoeuvred with it,
his people bawled out "Da-mon. 1 " The honour was
great, but the dust and the heat were excessive.
The unfriendly " umbrellas," namely those who dis-
like foreigners, as the Min-gan, the Tokpo, the Woto, a
small dark senior of royal blood, and others, rode by, either
affecting to ignore our existence or suddenly looking the
other way. We were much amused by the peculiarity of
the other groups, which either prowled or rushed about
outside the bamboos. The old To-no-nun and his fifty
men went round the half-ring, passing right and left, sing-
ing, dancing and clapping hands, taking aim with muskets,
and waving their long knives. Then came the Pani-gan-ho-
to or gong-gong men, four in number, and carrying single
and double cymbals, whilst a corresponding female band
promenaded the space within the bamboos. Twenty
singers also walked about, preceded by a peculiar drum
borrowed from Ashanti and called Ganikbaja. At intervals
stalked before us the Men-ho-blu-to, 2 or " Company of
Boasters." These are a score of local and negro Rad-
clifTes and De Courcys who by especial permission wear
in " the presence " their broadbrims or white night-caps
1 Da (fire !) mon (as you are), i.e., " May you fire straight ! " said
in praise to one of high name.
2 Men (man), ho (great), blu (do), to (he who does).
XIV. The King's " So-sin Custom." -Section B. 251
and their dirty cloths over their shoulders. 1 Moreover
they are allowed to smoke long pipes, of which one was
on the tomahawk principle ; and all over the square there
were independent groups drumming and dancing violently
as if to throw off the exuberance of their animal spirits.
So at Aden I have seen a Somali, when walking quietly
down the road, seized by some unintelligible influence and
fall to capering like a dancing-master demented.
Meanwhile the Amazons, throwing a stratum of loose
cloths and covering them with a finer piece outspread,
had built up a circular diwan 12 feet in diameter by 5 to >
feet high. 2 Most of them were of Kuropean manufacture,
many were made in the palace, and those that surmounted
the heap were the best silks, of brightest colours pink,
yellow, red and tender green -which sound outrageous,
but which look side by side beautiful as a rainbow or a
butterfly. All this finery is carried back after the ceiv
inony to the palace, and is not, as 1 was assured, given t->
At 4.5 I'.M. an increase of bustle and hubbub an
nounced the approach of the King. Preceded by boy
and musket-men, cheering and presenting arms, came the
Cceur de Marie umbrella, shading the fox-like features, the
black face and the ignoble white nightcap of Adan-men
nun-kon. After an interval followed the royal escort
three male caboceers, a "(iobbo," and a woman captain,
marching before a female host. The King wore a straw
calotte with a brilliant striped cloth, and was tonjours la
pipe a la louche. He sat woman-like on a little dingy nag.
with a bell, and led by a chain halter^ Behind his
1 Throughout Yoruba and the Gold Coast to bare the shou
is like unhatting in England These men were exempted
necessity by a mere caprice of the King, not because they h
any respect distinguished themselves.
2 To the north of this diwan. outside the bamtxx*. a *ma
of silks was raised upon mats, in honour of Addo-kpon
252 A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
umbrella and parasol trouped chanting soldieresses and a
strong band, with seven skulls mounted on fancy flags,
followed by a dozen " leopard wives" and a rearguard of
old women and small girl recruits. The King passed
three times in thirty minutes round the market-place,
waving hands to us, and the " Ububu " rang and guns
banged in all directions.
When the procession was over, Gelele took his seat
in the pavilion, with his wives on the right, and on both
flanks a bevy of musketeer women squatting motionless as
statues. The male caboceers saluted, touching the
ground outside the bamboos with their foreheads and
twice shovelling up dust. A troop of men spread a thin
line of single mats from the victim-shed past the bamboo
semicircle and southwards towards the Komasi Palace :
the extent was about 350 yards, and the breadth proved to
be 12 to 13 feet. On each mat was placed a pole 14 feet
long, tipped with a short and blunt iron fork. Presently
the six eunuchs brought up and opened what had appeared
a tent bag. This is the Nun-u-pwe-to 1 cloth belonging to
King Gezo, a patchwork supposed to contain a specimen
of every known manufacture, native or European. The
pieces vary in size from i to 10 feet, the colours are blue,
yellow, green, pink, red, and purple, and the patterns
checked, striped, zig-zaged and barred. This the King
will wear about his person when Abeokuta has been
taken. How he is to support 1050 feet of stuff no one
could explain, but the investiture it appears has been
deferred until the Grecian Kalends.
As the King issued from his tent at 5.4 P.M. the long
cloth which had been placed on the mats was upraised at
arm's length by the attendants with the blunt iron fork
passing through eyelet-holes. Thus exalted, it stood
i The word has already been explained. Mr. Duncan also
describes this " noble piece of patchwork," making it 600 yards by 2 ;
and in another place 1000 yards by 8 (vol. i. p. 264 ; and vol ii. p. 27).
XIV. The King's " So-sin Custom." Section /V. 253
more than twice the height of a man. When the novel
screen had been placed between the men and the women,
Gelele passed up and down the inside and the outside
waving hands when opposite us. This exhibition of
untold wealth excited the people, as their fearful noises
The " Able-to-do-anything " cloth having bring re-
moved, the King ascended thediwan by a five-rung ladder
covered with calico, picked out with pink reliefs. He was
accompanied by four wives. One held a parasol, which
was repeatedly changed, and this she constantly twirled.
The second was the spittoon bearer, who also fanned thr
King with a yellow silk kerchief, assisted by the moi.-
substantial hide circles of other women who stood below
and around the heap. The other two opened and piled
upon the diwan the green, blue, pink and speckled muslin*
with which Gelele would "change cloth to-day." It was
waxing late, and royalty had become fatigued and im-
patient : the King testily snatched the bundles from the
hands of his wives, and worked at them in double <juick
Presently Gelele mounted the platform ami there
disrobed, retaining, however, his shorts, which were of
satin yellow-flowered on a dark ground. From his left
shoulder hung, by a long sash of crimson silk, a short
silver-hilted sword. He first put on a toga of what
appeared to be green netting, like a mosquito bar, and
took in his right hand a large bright bill-hook ending in a
circular bulge. He formed a most effective figure, his
swarthy stalwart form being thrown out against thr
glowing western sky.
The various dances, all of them in the decapitation
style, performed by the King, corresponded with the
number of " drums" or bands. On the male side, sitting
in the Meu's or the minister division, were about twenty
men and youths with " tabl," or tambourines, under their
254 ^ Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome.
left arms ; they were habited in scarlet coats and queer
bonnet-caps of red and black cloth. Within the bamboo,
was an equal number of women, similarly clad. I will
not trouble the reader with the names and details of the
several corybantic saltations, comprising the first set of
eighteen and the second of one dozen. The King per-
formed only a few steps of each, and then, out-stretching
his left palm towards the musique with an imperious
gesture, he caused it to stop. Still the labour was severe,
as the free use of the forefinger, the yellow silk, and the
hide fans proved. The thirteenth dance of the second set
was called "Agbata," a performance borrowed from the
"Nago" people, and much admired for the kicking and
jumping which are its elements. It drew down unusual
applause : generally, however, shouts of joy, murmurs of
wonder, and discharges of musketry and cannon accom-
panied the whole performance. The eunuchs and the
caboceers made courtier-like speeches, the " niggers "
stolidly admired the grandeur of a king who can defray
the expenses of such exhibitions, and a wild group of
frontier bushmen, who act as guides to the army when on
the war path, hailed and bellowed their own melodies.
These roughs were all armed with muskets, and they
were led by two chiefs in dingy red tunics, whose thick
beards and straw hats, which they did not remove before
the King, rendered them conspicuous.
The brouhaha was infernal. There was a momentary
hush as the King, having girt on with a cartouche belt a
toga of white muslin, armed himself with a lion-stick, and
a musket, which he pointed at his subjects pretending to
fire. At this burst out a glorious shout of real African
laughter yep ! yep ! yep ! whilst guns were fired in all
directions. The din increased when the brass-set skulls
of the three kings 1 were severally handed to the conquer-
ing hero. With these trophies of his own peculiar
i Described in chap. ix.
XIV. The King's " .SVsi'w Custom." Section B. 255
prowess he toyed, and played various childish antics, to
the intense delight of the mobile, placing them under
his left arm, hiding them beneath his cloak, stretching
them out for better view, resting his elbow upon them,
and waving them to us as we bowed. He then loudly
addressed the Po-su's party, which stood on the left of the
semicircle. 1 They replied with noisy greetings, which he
acknowledged by a crab-like movement, advancing and
retreating sideways, with his left elbow akimbo, and
jogged to the fore ; this expressive action is called "ago,"
and means " I undertake to do it." The King then
tossed off a bumper of rum from the brass cup on the
crown of " Bakoko's" head, and sent it to us that we
might pledge him : it was at least as civilixed as Lord
Byron's drinking cranium : and more so than the " bony
goblet " " apparently not long before, it had been useful
to the original possessor "- out of which Mr. Duncan"
caroused with King Ge/.o. 1 was allowed to sketch the
three calvarisE, and to handle the royal sticks and caps.
One was of the Fanti Company, a loose; calotte of purple
velvet, with a yellow line on the crown, and a narrow
band of white silk with a border round the lower part.
The second had a white shark on a puce-coloured velvet ;
and the third, a cap of the Blue Company, resembled in
shape a Moslem "Takiyah," but showed a green lion
eating a claret-coloured porcupine, fretted over with quills
of yellow stitching. These animals were all very heraldic
The vociferous rapture of the subjects knew no bounds
as the King danced with his sword between his teeth, and
exulted over Bakoko's skull and the breaking of Ishagga.
The Buko-no eagerly asked me, if all the world o'er I had
ever seen so grand a sight ? I have had to answer similar
1 Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 247), saw King Gc/o perform similar
2 Vol. i. pp. 239, 240.
256 A Mission to Gelele, King of Da home.
queries in far more civilized countries ; and I have ever
found that there is nothing easier than to convince people
who already believe.
Presently the King began to hand down decanters of
rum, a sign that he was weary of pleasure he had danced
thirty-two dances. At 6.15 P.M. he descended from the
diwan, and mounted the smaller heap, whose cover was a
white cloth powdered with little ochre-coloured lions. Here
the King assumed his fetish war-dress, a body-pagne of
chocolate-coloured netting, and a dark blue indigo-dyed
cloth, passing from the left shoulder low down the right
side : it was studded with charms and amulets in small
squares, stained with dry blood, and bordered with
\l cowries. 1 His umbrella was equally gloomy, and his
large crooked Bo-stick was swathed with alternate blue
and white bandages. After motioning with this weapon,
he danced to the songs and instruments of the fetishmen,
and seized a musket, which he levelled but did not dis-
charge. He then came forward, and we advanced : after
the usual greetings, I requested him not to forget his
English coat of mail, which hint was whispered in his ear
by the timid Beecham, who dreaded the fetishry. After
a little chatting, and being requested to return on the
morrow, we made for home with much pleasure, there
is none of Rimmel's perfumed fountains here.
i Cowries may be remarked in the musket stocks. According to
Mr. Duncan (vol. i. p. 261), they are an honourable distinction,
given as medals to civilized armies. The stock is repeatedly smeared
with the victim's blood, coat after coat, till the thickness is sufficient
to form a setting for the shell, around which it soon dries. Although
only one cowrie is given per head, some old soldiers .have, their
weapons entirely covered over with them. This custom, of course,
stimulates murder, and excites perpetual jealousies in the service.
I have heard the same said of a certain modern English decoration.
END OF VOL. I.
Burton, (Sir) Richarc
A mission to Gelel
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